The latest Met Matinee Broadcast reissue showcases opera’s most
famous double-act. As with many of these Met releases, it’s
a mixed success.
With Cavalleria, it’s the set’s two leads that are
worth hearing. It’s easy to see why the village girls all fall
for Tucker’s Turridu, a silver-tongued devil with a rakish edge.
There is a gleaming, burnished quality to his voice that is
most appealing. He is very fine in the duet with Santuzza, as
well as in the drinking song, though his final appeal to his
mother perhaps goes a little over the top. Eileen Farrell, in
her final Met broadcast, gets off to a slightly iffy start,
but her voice achieves marvellous intensity for Voi lo sapete
and she leads the Easter hymn very well indeed. She, too, is
good in the duet, but her final denunciation of Turridu is rather
too pantomimish. Bardelli’s Alfio is solid, if nothing special,
and both Miller’s Lola and Chookasian’s Mamma Lucia are a little
anonymous. The choral singing becomes very good in the Easter
Hymn but they sound excessively raw in their entries. That leads
to the biggest problem: the limitations of the 1964 mono sound
and the live performance. Mascagni’s lovely score often needs
to float on the air, especially in the opening interchanges
between the male and female choruses, but the boxy, rather close
sound leaves no room for subtlety or shading, and that also
affects the string tone for the Intermezzo, which is uncomfortably
Pagliacci is a similarly mixed success. The most successful
role is Lucine Amara’s Nedda, a properly sexy vamp. Her tone
is seductive and alluring during her aria, and tender during
the duet with Silvio, but she achieves thrilling defiance in
the final scene, raising the roof with the quality of the tension.
Be in no doubt that the chief “attraction” of the set is Franco
Corelli’s Canio. Corelli’s fog-horn tendencies are on full display,
and he will neither disappoint his fans nor confound his critics.
However, I found little to warm to here. The opening scene,
Un grande spettacolo, is marred by self-indulgent posturing,
often swooning over a note rather than hitting it cleanly, and
the subsequent aria, Un tal gioco, is sapped of any
tension by the ham with which he overacts it. Admittedly, he
uses his tone to thrilling effect when he catches Nedda and
Silvio, and the great cry of Ridi, Pagliaccio is super,
but he gasps and blows his way through the final scene without
any control, and the final minutes of his interpretation threaten
to depart from what most of us would perceive as music! The
other roles are solid but unexceptional, Tonio sounding suitably
malevolent and Silvio sounding convincingly love-struck.
In both operas, Nello Santi conducts like a true-blue Italian,
injecting plenty of red-blooded fire into the score and making
it bristle with passion. That said, he doesn’t always manage
to shade the gentler moments, such as they are, with enough
contrast. I also found his choice of tempi unhelpful in much
of Pagliacci, however, sometimes draining the tension
rather than tightening it. The playing of the orchestra is good
but, again, the quality of the sound recording doesn’t help.
So it’s an iffy release, and probably only for die-hard fans
of the leads; and, believe me, you would have to be a serious
Corelli fan to buy this set for his contribution! In that, it
shares one of the chief drawbacks of these Met broadcast re-releases:
they tend to showcase the achievements of particular stars in
their heydays, in this case Tucker and Corelli. They don’t really
work as total realisations of the work in hand, and I don’t
think many of them would bear repeated listenings, with the
probable exception of their Meistersinger.
The budget price helps, but explore only with caution. The package
includes an un-cued synopsis but no libretto.