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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
Santuzza – Margaret Harshaw (mezzo-soprano)
Turiddu – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Lucia – Thelma Votipka (mezzo-soprano)
Alfio – Frank Guarrera (baritone)
Lola – Mildred Miller (mezzo-soprano)
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
Canio (Pagliaccio) – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Nedda (Colombina) – Lucine Amara (soprano)
Tonio (Taddeo) – Giuseppe Valdengo (baritone)
Beppe (Arlecchino) – Thomas Hayward (tenor)
Silvio – Clifford Harvuot (baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera Association/Fausto Cleva
rec. Metropolitan Opera, New York, 4 and 5 June 1951 (Pagliacci); 18 & 25 January 1953 (Cavalleria rusticana)
Synopsis in English, French and German
First release on CD
SONY 19075820002 [68:04 + 71:09]

The inseparable Cav and Pag are back again, and this particular pair hasn’t been available since the LP era. They belong to earliest generation of microgroove recordings, and when they were new, issued in harness on 27 March 1953, the only competition was Björling and, insofar as it was available outside Italy, a Cetra production featuring Giulietta Simionato as Santuzza and a young Carlo Bergonzi as Canio. The classic set with Callas and Di Stefano followed within a year or so and Decca issued Mario Del Monaco at about the same time. Great tenors rubbing shoulders, in other words. The reasons why Richard Tucker’s recordings now comes on CD for the first time is not easy to ascertain. The sound quality may be one. The original tapes have been digitally remastered using 24-bit/192 kHz technology but the thin string sound that is very obvious in the opening of the Cavalleria prelude isn’t too enticing and even though there is a lot of power in the playing at climaxes and also orchestral detail, the quality is rather raw and unsophisticated. It is however fully listenable in both operas. Another reason may be Fausto Cleva’s rather lacklustre conducting, professionally efficient no doubt but anonymous. Chorus and orchestra are OK and there are several famous names among the soloists, but probably the company thought in the early 1980s, when the compact disc was launched, that there were so many other recordings around that the present set wouldn’t have been competitive. Question is: is it more competitive today?

Taking Cavalleria first there are several beautiful choral passages that usually make their mark before the blood-curdling crime passionnel sets in, but one never gets the pastoral or Easter feeling. And much of the solo singing is hammed up. Margaret Harshaw, the mezzo-soprano turned soprano during a career of 22 consecutive seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, has a strong and steady voice but there is little warmth in it in Voi lo sapete. In the trying duet with Turiddu both she and Tucker are truly hard-hitting and Tucker is rather unbending elsewhere as well: O Lola, is full-throated and lacks lyrical warmth. His Brindisi is certainly sung with èlan but it is not until Turiddu too late realises that he has gone too far and sings a remorseful soliloquy, accompanied by a solo cello that he becomes a true human being and scales down and Mamma! Quel vio è generoso becomes the highpoint it should be. Frank Guarrera is a rather stentorian Alfio, while the omnipresent Thelma Votipka is a fine Mamma Lucia and Mildred Miller glitters in Lola’s little solo. By and large this is not a Cav I will return to very often – apart from the final scene.

Pag was more to my taste. The sound is actually better, although it was recorded two years before Cav. The music is a bit too hard-driven also here but it works generally well. Giuseppe Valdengo, famous in particular for his recordings of Aïda, Otello and Falstaff with Toscanini, sings Si può in the prologue with welcome lyricism and he is well-articulated and expressive in the duet with Nedda. She is sung by Lucine Amara, who is best remembered for her Musetta in the legendary Bohème recording under Thomas Beecham, and she is glittering and charming in her aria and utterly expressive and involved in the duet with Silvio, my favourite number from this opera. Silvio is sung by the today little known Clifford Harvuot, a regular at the Metropolitan from 1947 to 1975. His voice is a lyrical baritone, not the greatest of voices but he nuances well. Thomas Hayward is a good Beppe/Arlecchino and sings O Colombina with lyrical warmth. And Tucker is in his element here as Canio. Un tal gioco is beautifully lyrical, Vesti la giubba is nuanced and strongly emotional – and gloriously executed. His final scene is heart-rending in its boundless jealousy. The identification is truly tangible. This is a Pagliacci I will return to with pleasure.

Swings and roundabouts but Pagliacci is a worthy document of what this opera could have sounded like at a performance at the Metropolitan on a good evening in the early 1950s.

Göran Forsling



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