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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
(1890)
Maria Callas (soprano) – Santuzza; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Turiddu; Rolando Panerai (baritone) – Alfio; Anna Maria Canali (mezzo) – Lola; Ebe Ticozzi (mezzo) – Mamma Lucia
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
Pagliacci
(1892)
Maria Callas (soprano) – Nedda; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Canio; Tito Gobbi (baritone) – Tonio; Nicola Monti (tenor) – Beppe; Rolando Panerai (baritone) – Silvio
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Tullio Serafin
rec. 16–25 June, 3-4 August 1953, Basilica di Santa Euphemia, Milan (Cavalleria rusticana); 12–17 June 1954, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Synopsis and libretto with translations can be found on the bonus CD-ROM in PDF form.
EMI CLASSICS 6407222 [78:08 + 72:37]

Experience Classicsonline

These verismo twins – they were first performed together in December 1893 at the Metropolitan Opera – have been recorded innumerable times. The 1907 recording of Pagliacci, first ever complete recording of an opera. According to Wikipedia both have had more than 130 recordings! Beniamino Gigli recorded both, Cavalleria in 1940 with the composer conducting. After the war most of the leading tenors gave given their views of Turiddu and Canio: Jussi Björling, Mario Del Monaco, Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and José Carreras. All of these have something to offer and it is difficult to pick an outright winner. To me Jussi Björling and Carlo Bergonzi stand out for giving very nuanced and lyrical readings. In particular the Bergonzi recordings with Herbert von Karajan’s refined conducting go a long way to prove that these works are far from the simple and primitive hard-hitters that they have been accused of. I have to admit, however, that the Decca stereo sets from around 1960 with Mario Del Monaco in the tenor leads have a special thrill that is difficult to resist – when one is in the right mood.

On the present set Giuseppe Di Stefano also has ambitions to produce as many decibels as possible, singing at full throttle most of the time. There is real thrill in the duet with Santuzza, which is the dramatic climax, but Di Stefano was never a true spinto, and the raw power that Del Monaco has in abundance – and one always has a feeling that he still has something in reserve – comes to Di Stefano as an act of volition. He is as ardent as ever in the Siciliana and has his moments elsewhere too but generally speaking he overreaches himself.

Callas, on the other hand, is superb in the role that was her stage debut in a student production of the opera at the Olympia Theatre when she was only fifteen. Her voice is fresh and beautiful. nowhere more so than in Voi lo sapete which is overwhelming in its intensity and vulnerable as well. This aria is one of those that I would choose to play to people who think Callas is overrated.

Rolando Panerai is a rather average Alfio – Robert Merrill on the Björling recording surpasses him with more power and more beautiful tone. I still have to hear a recording with Serafin that is less than outstanding but here he and the Scala forces are hampered by audio leaves a lot to be desired. It may have something to do with the venue; it may also be the fault of the recording team. Producer and balance engineer are unknown.

Not recommendable, then? Any recording with Callas at this stage of her career can be recommended – even when her voice sometimes adopts unbeautiful vibrato that became more prominent after her Turandot recording. Here she is amazingly good, but the total experience is compromised in several ways.

We move to a quite different world on CD 2. Pagliacci, recorded almost exactly a year later, but in Teatro alla Scala. Now the producer is not unknown. It is the legendary Walter Legge who supervised many of Callas’s early recordings. The balance engineer is Robert Beckett and together they achieve a sound picture that is far superior to the Mascagni. By today’s standards it lacks, quite naturally, wide dynamics and pinpoint detail, but it offers more than decent mono sound, free from distortion. The best mark one can give is, to my mind at least, that one doesn’t think of the recording but concentrates on the music and the interpretation. There is little Tullio Serafin can do with some of Leoncavallo’s most glaring orchestration; on the other hand that is part and parcel of the verismo concept. It is a rather punchy performance but held within rather strict reins.

The singing is also on a generally higher level. Tito Gobbi opens the proceedings with a nuanced and moving reading of the prologue. As always he sings with ‘face’ and he is in glorious voice. Di Stefano also willingly scales down and finds the lyrical, human voice of Canio before the matrimonial conflict develops. Un tal gioco is tenor singing of the utmost beauty and sensitivity. Vest la giubba and the furious outbreaks in the second act are truly Italianate with all the feelings undisguised before our ears – and though one can hear the pain and despair he doesn’t indulge in lachrymose sobs and hiccups à la Gigli.

Nedda is less interesting as a character than Santuzza, but Callas makes the most of her aria Stridono lassù, where she sings of the birds: ‘Vagabonds of the sky, who obey only the secret force that drives them on and on’ who become symbols for her own longing after freedom. But the high-spot of the whole opera is her duet with Silvio. This was one of the items on my first Callas LP Callas in Duet and I was at once fascinated by the individuality of utterance that set Callas apart from the only other recording I then had, Carla Gavazzi on the old Cetra set, good as Gavazzi was. Here Rolando Panerai is also on top form and both singers glow like embers. With excellent choral contributions and Nicola Monty luxurious casting as Beppe/Arlecchino this is a recording of Pagliacci to challenge even Cellini’s (with Björling and de los Angeles). This is a case where I would have preferred to be able to buy the two operas separately, but then I would have had to live without Callas’s Voi lo sapete.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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