Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)
|Lina Bruna Rasa
|Chorus & Orchestra of the Opera Italiana d’Olanda|
Dutch Royal Theatre, The Hague, Holland
conducted by the Composer
7 November, 1938
Reviews for CD 2241 Cavalleria Rusticana
"This blazing account of Mascagni's best-known opera may now be heard in generally excellent sound."
Vivian Liff - American Record Guide
American Record Guide – July/August 2005
MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana
Lina Bruna Rasa (Santuzza), Antonio Melandri
(Turridu), Afro Poli (Alfio), Maria Meloni (Lola),
Rina Gallo Toscani (Mamma Lucia); Opera Italiana d' Olanda / Pietro Mascagni
Excerpts of this performance from November 1938 originally appeared on an EJS LP in poor sound. Some years later Bongiovanni issued a “complete” CD also badly transferred and used a section of the Gigli recording to make good a missing side from the original transcription 78s. The insertion was wretchedly managed, even discounting the totally different sound of Gigli's voice. Guild has sensibly used a side from the commercial Columbia recording with Melandri, and the junction is so well engineered as to be almost undetectable. More important, this blazing account of Mascagni's best-known opera may now be heard in generally excellent sound.
Considering that Bruna Rasa was famed for her interpretation of Santuzza, the 1940 recording of this score with Beniamino Gigli and conducted by the composer left many listeners puzzled. The soprano sounded dispirited, and Mascagni's lethargic direction was a further negative factor. Here, just two years earlier, is a performance that demonstrates cogent reasons for the sopranos adulation as well as offering all the qualities so conspicuously lacking in the studio issue. Although the conductor still tends to favor slow tempos, there is an underlying urgency and pulse in addition to the inevitable frisson engendered by an actual performance. This is further augmented by the searing, almost unbearably dramatic interpretation given by the soprano. She seems to be living her role, and the listener will find it hard not to be captivated by such abandon. Minor lapses of intonation are easily forgiven in light of such fervor.
Unlike Gigli with his sweet, almost feminine timbre, Melandri is well suited to the peasant Turriddu. His voice, with its slightly baritonal, thick-sounding middle register, is more reminiscent of Ramon Vinay's. Never an especially imaginative singer, his interpretation steadily improves as the opera proceeds, and the farewell to his mother is deeply affecting – probably one of the finest on record. The reliable Poli almost makes Alfio a believable character, and his duet with Bruna Rasa generates extraordinary excitement.
The few cons are occasional interruptions from the prompt box and some thumps and swishes where damage has occurred to the original discs. Fortunately such blemishes seldom appear in the purple passages. In any case, the listener is likely to be so swept away by the vigour of the performance that they may well pass unnoticed. Sensible notes on the composer and the performance make this a definite candidate for inclusion in your collection.
MusicWeb Friday May 16 03
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - Melodrama in one act.
Santuzza, Lina Bruna Rasa (soprano). Turridu, Antonio Melandri (tenor). Alfio, Afro Poli (Baritone). Lola, Maria Meloni (soprano). Mamma Lucia, Rina Gallo-Toscani (m. soprano).
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opera d’Olanda Dutch Royal Theatre, The Hague, Holland. Conducted by the composer, Pietro Mascagni.
Recorded live 7th November, 1938
GUILD HISTORICAL CD 2241 [78.36]
Mascagni conducted a number of his works in the theatre and on record. Being the composer of a highly successful work does not, however, necessarily confer the ability to draw out the best performances of one’s own work. Indeed, Mascagni’s studio recording of this work, made in 1940 with the same soprano, his favorite Santuzza, and Gigli as Turridu, is renowned for dilatory tempi and some sloppy ensemble (Naxos Historical). In this, and other known theatre performances, his beat and rhythms were much more dynamic and the theatrical impact considerable. In this recording his timing, including applause beats Sinopoli, no slouch, on his 1989 recording (DG) featuring Baltsa and Domingo, each thrilling in their roles.
Live recordings do, however, have their downside in respect of recording quality, stage noise and the intrusion of applause. In this issue, all these factors, and surface noise (tr.16), play a part in limiting one’s enjoyment of a vibrant, well sung, dynamic performance. In the prelude the harp is clearly heard, but here, and elsewhere, the strings lack presence and depth, making the recorded texture sound rather ‘heavy’. Audience coughs and stage noise as well as applause is to a degree intrusive. The effect of such intrusions can be mitigated, in the overall assessment, if compensations are to be found elsewhere, and certainly that is so in the performance of Lina Bruna Rasa as Santuzza. Born in 1907 her fragile psychological state limited her career, but in this performance one or two pitch lapses apart, her vibrant and dynamic representation of Santuzza’s moods is formidable. Nowadays we are used to creamy even vocalization that often forgets that verismo isn’t just beauty of tone but real life; the life of love, anger and hate and these are the characteristics that blaze out in this interpretation (trs.4 and 11). As her lover, Melandri is rather thick-toned and baritonal in timbre. He created Falco in Mascagni’s ‘Isabeau’, and recorded Mefistofele and Fedora for Columbia. On stage he sang Radames, Samson and Cavaradossi, all big voiced roles and this is what he gives here. He lacks the finesse of Gigli on the studio recording, but his characterization is strong and appropriate, particularly in his duet with Santuzza ‘Ah! Lo vedi’ (tr.11) which is hair-raising in its dramatic intensity. Afro Poli as Alfio is the kind of baritone that used to ‘grow on trees’ in Italy. Strong of voice with well covered and colored but virile tone, he sang Marcello in the 1938 HMV recording of La Boheme with Gigli as Rodolfo. His way with words (tr.5) conveys clearly what Turridu is up against, did he but know it, by dabbling with his wife. Lola, by the way, is sung with clarity but little distinction by Maria Meloni. The fact that the cast are native speakers is a great benefit to the performance.
Richard Caniell provides his usual informative biographical and performance notes as well as information on the recording sources including details of the interpolation of some of Melandri’s lines, from a 1930 performance, that would otherwise be missing.
Robert J Farr