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Reviews for Pagliacci Met 1934
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Reviews for IPCD 1047-2

Leoncavallo PAGLIACCI

Vincenzo Bellezza, cond; Giovanni Martinelli (Canio); Queena Mario (Nedda); Lawrence Tibbett (Tonio); George Cehanovsky (Silvio); Alfio Tedesco (Beppe); Metropolitan Opera O & Ch. IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1047 monaural (2 CDs: 153:05) Live recording: Metropolitan Opera, 3/10/1934

& Leoncavallo PAGLIACCI: Recitar (Martinelli; 1927 Vitaphone).

& Leoncavallo PAGLIACCI: Final Scene (Martinelli; Helen Jepson; Maurice Abravanel, cond; Live: Chicago Opera, 11/11/1940)

& Verdi IL TROVATORE: Excerpts (Martinelli; Elisabeth Rethberg; Richard Bonelli; Gennaro Papi, cond; Live: Metropolitan Opera, 2/15/1936)

& Conversation by Richard Calhoun with Martinelli and Licia Albanese

Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine
November/December 2014

I have only been familiar with this 1934 Met Pagliacci on a dismal Walhall transfer (Richard Caniell of Immortal Performances explains just why it is so dismal in his enlightening notes), and found I could never get through it. What we have here is miraculous.

One has to put “miraculous” into the proper perspective. This is a 1934 live Met performance recorded by a service hired by Lawrence Tibbett to preserve his performances. This was long before tape, and the discs over the years have undergone varying degrees of wear and tear. This cannot be considered a basic Pagliacci for the casual opera lover. But for anyone with a serious interest in romantic opera and its performance history, it is almost essential listening. Caniell has cleaned up the material superbly — fixing pitch inconsistencies, bringing out real color from the voices, and reversing serious dynamic compression. He couldn’t remove all of the noise of course, but I found myself easily able to listen through it to hear this incredible performance by both Martinelli and Tibbett.

There is another Martinelli Pagliacci, from 1936, but with Bonelli instead of Tibbett, and yet another from 1941 with Tibbett. But Martinelli surpasses himself here in 1934; this is the one to hear. Although he had a long career, it must be remembered that he was born in 1885, and thus was already 49 when he sang this performance, and 56 by the time of the 1941 version. He made his operatic debut in 1910, and his Met debut in 1913. Some listeners have always resisted the Martinelli voice, and one can understand why. It is not a timbre with much in the way of liquid beauty, or dark overtones. It is a bright, tightly focused sound, and in later years it turned harder and more brittle. But here the sound has plenty of ring, and he knew the style as almost no one else did. His sense of how to shape the music was innate and deeply held within him, and his willingness to give everything he had in performance made his appearances real events. It is actually surprising that his voice lasted as long as it did, given the intensity with which he sang. This is a truly great performance, one that merits the over-used word “unique.” Some may feel it is over the top — particularly his outburst of “infamia!” (“infamy!”) at the end of the orchestral postlude to “Vesti la giubba.” Others, however, will find everything he does vividly conveys the passion and heartbreak of Canio. I found myself swept up from his entrance to the opera’s conclusion.

Tibbett is the other major asset of this performance. His is a richly sung and highly dramatic Tonio. Not only the Prologue, but the duet with Nedda is a true highlight. It is important to note that although Tibbett was also on the 1941 broadcast, in better sound, he even more than Martinelli is in far better voice here. Tibbett underwent a vocal crisis in 1940 which really lasted a few years, and his singing in 1941 is nothing like what it is in 1934.

From there, however, the performance drops to a less distinguished level. Queena Mario (actually an American named Marion Tillotson) has a rather thin voice, though she sings well enough and in no way detracts from the impact of the performance. George Cehanovsky, who sang over 2,000 performances in a four-decade career with the Met, was mainly a valued comprimario. Silvio is not a comprimario role, even though it cedes the baritone limelight to Tonio. The duet with Nedda is one of the opera’s highlights, and Cehanovsky’s dry, colorless voice does not do it justice. On the other hand, the very strong Beppe of Alfio Tedesco is a welcome surprise.

Bellezza conducts with a knowing hand, though not with the impetus that other conductors (Papi, Panizza, Serafin) could get in this music, and the Met Chorus and Orchestra in 1934 were not the world class ensembles that they are today. None of that should deter you. This is a performance of rare dramatic fire and with musical thrills galore, lovingly and brilliantly restored. If you care at all about Pagliacci and/or the verismo operatic tradition, you must know this performance, and only in this transfer.

The other Pagliacci excerpts are valuable (the restoration of the 1927 Vitaphone recording shows us the younger Martinelli and reproduces the voice with remarkable color), and hearing Jepson in the final scene shows us the difference between an important voice and the lesser one of Queena Mario. There is, however, a fascinating moment where things almost breakdown at Martinelli’s entrance in “No, Pagliaccio non son.” Somehow he and Abravanel got really out of sync there.

The Trovatore excerpts (one scene is not from the Met but from a 1927 Vitaphone recording) are further illustration of Martinelli’s skill, and his ability to sing lyrically when the music requires. Rethberg and Bonelli are excellent. In his notes Caniell is correctly dismissive of Katherine Meisle’s Azucena, and he has minimized her presence in these excerpts. Again, the sound is variable, as one would expect from a 1936 live broadcast, but the restoration is as good as it gets. The 18-minute interview with Martinelli and Albanese, from a radio series on Met broadcasts called History of the Met is a wonderful additional bonus. As usual, the notes and photos that accompany the discs are all one could ask for.

Leoncavallo PAGLIACCI

Vincenzo Bellezza, cond; Giovanni Martinelli (Canio); Queena Mario (Nedda); Lawrence Tibbett (Tonio); George Cehanovsky (Silvio); Alfio Tedesco (Beppe); Metropolitan Opera O & Ch. IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1047 monaural (2 CDs: 153:05) Live recording: Metropolitan Opera, 3/10/1934

Bonus: Final scene, Chicago Opera (11/11/1940); Recitar! (Martinelli, 1927); interview with Martinelli and Albanese; excerpts from Il trovatore with Martinelli and Rethberg, Metropolitan Opera, New York 2/15/1936

Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
January/February 2015

The joy of Immortal Performances is that it will never let you get away with a single performance of an opera. No, there are addenda, commercial recordings, and interviews galore. And such is the case here. But first, the main course.

London Green’s booklet essay, “Martinelli: Lion of the Met” is an important introduction to the music contained herein. The main offering is the 1934 Met performance of Pagliacci. Martinelli’s sense of verismo line is impeccable, his vocal power as arresting as it is magnificent. So it is that his “Recitar!” stops the listener in his/her tracks, just as it must surely have caused a sensation in 1934. The power of his “Pagliaccio non son” towards the end of the opera is remarkable. The fact the orchestra is on fire at this point doesn’t hurt. Inevitably there is some congestion in the orchestral contribution, but it is to the miracle of the voice that we are directed. The sheer power of Leoncavallo’s score sears viscerally through the years, even when there are surface swishes that some might find distracting (CD 1, track 5). Queena Mario is a light-voiced Nedda, whose voice works well against George Cehanovsky’s Silvio. Vincenzo Bellezza’s conducting is highly charged, and rightly so: The Intermezzo seems the only musical reaction possible to Martinelli’s “Recitar!” and is imbued with heart-breaking tenderness.

The second disc provides a recorded (Vitaphone) “Recitar!,” that sounds absolutely tremendous. The orchestra has real bite and one can hear every inflection, both orchestrally and vocally. “Vesti la giubba” is blessed with a lovely sense of line. Martinelli does sob at the end, but it is not particularly over the top. Unfortunately the 1940 recording of the act II final scene (with George Zaplicki as Silvio, Helen Jepson as Nedda, and the Chicago forces under Abravanel) feels earlier than its date in recording terms. Despite that, it is a lovely performance, and the opportunity to compare Martinelli against the 1934 performance is valuable. Here he seems a little more studied in his delivery, refulgent though his voice is.

The 1936 Met Trovatore with Rethberg’s Leonore and Bonelli’s Luna is more than icing on the cake (there’s also an insert from act III scene 2 from a Vitaphone recording with Lydia Maracci and, of course, Martinelli; here the orchestral contribution rather degenerates). The conducting (Gennaro Papi) has an undercurrent of urgency, but perhaps it is Martinelli’s “Di quella pira” that everyone is (rightly) waiting for. And how he delivers, strong yet impeccably lyrical. We get act IV scene 2 complete. Martinelli’s legato at “Si m’ami amor” seems to sum up perfect Verdi singing. The set concludes with a fascinating 18-minute interview of Martinelli and Albanese with Richard Calhoun. Martinelli was clearly quite a raconteur; he is fascinating throughout—as, of course, is his singing. The whole set is a delight.

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