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Cavalleria Rusticana - Three Peformances | IPCD 1082-3
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Reviews for IPCD 1082-3


MASCAGNI Cavalleria rusticana (3 performances)1, 2, 3 • 1various conds; 2Lorenzo Molajoli, 3Pietro Mascagni, cond; 1Dusolina Giannini, 2Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, 3Lina Bruna-Rasa (Santuzza); 1Beniamino Gigli, 2, 3Antonio Melandri (Turridu); 1Carlo Tagliabue, 2Gino Lulli, 3Afro Poli (Alfio); 1Claramae Turner, 2Ida Mannarini, 3Rina Gallo-Toscani (Mamma Lucia); 1Anna Kaskas, 2Maria Castagna, 3Maria Meloni (Lola); 1Ch & O of the Metropolitan Op House, New York; 2Ch & O of La Scala, Milan; 3Ch & O of the Op Italiana d’Olanda • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1082 (3 CDs: 229:52) 3Live: Dutch Royal Theater, Hague, Holland 11/7/1938

& MASCAGNI Cavalleria rusticana: Voi lo sapete. VERDI La forza del destino: Sono giunta!...Madre, pietosa Vergine. Pace, pace mio Dio! STRAUSS Zueignung. TRAD Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms. Manella mia. (Dusolina Giannini, various accompaniments)

Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
September / October 2017

A three-disc set from Immortal Performances comprises a trio of renditions of Pietro Mascagni’s pioneering verismo one-act opera, Cavalleria rusticana (1890). The first Cav is part of IP’s ongoing Heritage Series, an initiative that combines various recordings (in this instance, studio and live) to create a composite performance starring a representative cast of its time. Next is a 1930 La Scala studio recording for Italian Columbia. The IP release concludes with a 1938 live performance from The Hague. All of the recordings coincided with Mascagni’s lifetime, and indeed, the Dutch performance is led by none other than the composer. During this period, 78-rpm studio recordings reflected what one would typically encounter in actual performance, sometimes with warts and all. In time, and especially with the advent of tape recording technology that allowed for corrections of the tiniest errors, studio issues were assembled with the goal of fashioning a pristine document. That document was indeed often impeccably recorded and executed, but frequently lacking “heat of the moment” spontaneity and intensity, the essence of live performances (yes, there were notable exceptions, such as the iconic 1953 EMI Tosca, with Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi, and de Sabata conducting). There is a consistency of approach to be found in the performances reproduced on this Immortal Performances release. Although the 1930 La Scala Cav is a studio recording, and the Heritage Series version comprises mostly studio renditions as well, both have much the same theatrical atmosphere of the 1938 live performance. And again, the presence of the composer—both in spirit for the first two discs, and in person for the third—can neither be denied, nor underestimated.

In April of 1940, Mascagni conducted an EMI studio recording of Cavalleria, starring Beniamino Gigli as Turiddu. Gigli was 50 at the time, and could still look forward to more than another decade of effective singing. The Siciliana from that 1940 recording is included in IP’s Heritage Series Cav, and it documents a singer in fine voice, coping magnificently with the composer’s broad tempos. But Gigli’s true vocal prime may be found in the recordings from the late 1920s and early 30s that form the remainder of his contribution to the Heritage Series Cav. It is a voice of extraordinary beauty and presence, and while it may not have been especially large, by all accounts it carried effortlessly throughout the opera house. Because Gigli was such a vocal marvel, but not a particularly compelling stage figure, his vocal acting is sometimes overlooked. But Gigli was constantly seeking to illuminate the text with individual colors and inflections. And no one could bring a smile or chuckle to the voice like Gigli. Gigli masterfully portrays both the light and dark aspects of Turiddu’s character and fate. The inclusion of a 1927 Vitaphone of the closing moments of the opera is an inspired choice, as Gigli sings and acts his heart out. In 1932, Gigli recorded the great Turiddu-Santuzza confrontation with the American-born soprano Dusolina Giannini. That recording, and excerpts from a 1943 Standard Hour broadcast, constitute her participation in the Heritage Series Cav. Giannini is a marvelous Santuzza, with a rich Italianate voice and temperament to spare. The remainder of the cast maintains the high level established by its two stars. The first disc is filled out by a series of arias and songs performed beautifully by Giannini (apart from a strident B♭ in “Invan la pace,” toward the close of “Pace, pace” from Verdi’s La forza del destino). The 1930 La Scala studio recording is first-rate as well. Like Dusolina Giannini, Giannina Arangi-Lombardi brings impressive vocal and dramatic credentials to the role of Santuzza. The Turiddu, Antonio Melandri, has a rich and vibrant voice that is rather thickly produced. He certainly understands the role, and throws himself into it wholeheartedly, but Melandri’s technique does not seem to allow for much dynamic variety or subtlety. That said, he is what we old-timers like to call “the real thing,” a singer who has both the voice and temperament for verismo opera. The remaining singers are fine, and Lorenzo Molajoli, who conducted several La Scala studio recordings, leads a performance of considerable momentum and, where appropriate, beauty and charm (the string portamentos, a souvenir of another era, are quite arresting).

As previously mentioned, in 1940 Mascagni conducted a Milan studio recording of Cavalleria for Italian EMI. That recording, while flawed, is self-recommending as an historical document. Two years earlier, Mascagni led a series of Cav performances at the Dutch Royal Theater in The Hague. A recording survives from those performances, and it makes for an intriguing comparison. In many ways, I think the 1938 performance is preferable. First and foremost, there is the matter of pacing. The 1940 studio recording is one of the slowest on discs, clocking at just under 82 minutes. The Immortal Performances CD of the Hague Cav totals 78:35, but approximately three minutes of that are taken up by applause. Not only is the 1938 performance significantly briefer, it has far more of a sense of pulse and forward drive, so essential to this verismo melodrama. When I listen to the 1940 studio recording, I am constantly aware of its measured pace. In the 1938 Dutch performance, even the broader moments have a sense of momentum and energy. Indeed, Mascagni here proves a masterful and riveting interpreter of his early masterpiece. Both the 1938 and 1940 Cavs share the Santuzza of Lina Bruna Rasa, one of the greatest interpreters of the role. I’m not sure I have ever heard another artist who equals Rasa’s genius in creating a believable flesh and blood character of out Santuzza. Rasa throws herself into the drama and music with a frightening intensity. Listen, for example, to the way Rasa cries out “l’amai” (“I loved him!”) in her confession to Mamma Lucia, “Voi lo sapete.” It is the shriek of a wounded creature who has lost all hope. In 1938, Rasa was in more secure voice than for the 1940 studio recording. And the mike placement for the live performance provides Rasa’s voice more space, revealing a far more attractive, equalized, and less tremulous quality. If you love Cavalleria, you must hear Lina Bruna Rasa’s Santuzza, and for that the 1938 Dutch performance is the one to have. Antonio Melandri reprises his Turiddu, now darker and thicker of voice, and more stentorian too. Once again, there is not a great deal of subtlety to be found here—that is, until the “Addio alla Madre,” hushed, tender, and carefully sculpted, as Turiddu prepares to meet his death. Afro Poli is a particularly lively and involved Alfio, one given to extra-musical interpolations that may or may not be to your taste. Maria Meloni and Rina Gallo-Toscani are excellent as Lola and Lucia. The prompter is often quite the presence as well; again, you will need to decide whether that is a drawback. But all in all, this is a thrilling and propulsive rendition, starring a unique, once-in-a lifetime Santuzza. It belongs in any representative collection of the work.

The sonic restorations by Richard Caniell are all first-rate. He does a brilliant job of matching the sound worlds of the various sources for the Heritage Series Cav (they span the years 1926–43) that occupies disc one. The 1930 HMV studio recording has impressive definition and presence, allowing one to enjoy both the vocalists and the wonderful La Scala Orchestra musicians. Comparing a previous 2003 issue on the Guild label of the 1938 Dutch performance with the new Immortal Performances set reveals noticeably improved focus and equalization. The absence of a disc from the master requires substituting a portion of the 1930 studio recording for a bit of the episode following the Brindisi. There is a frequently present surface “thump,” a source surface defect not intrusive enough to detract from the performance’s considerable impact. Once again, my colleague Henry Fogel provides written commentary on the artists that is a model of keen insight, erudition, the ability to communicate with music lovers spanning a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, and an obvious affection both for his subject and the art of writing. Richard Caniell contributes excellent notes on Cavalleria, a plot synopsis, and a discussion of the various source recordings. This first-class release offers treasured insights into a grand performance tradition that is perhaps gone forever, but thanks to concerns like Immortal Performances, never to be forgotten. Highly recommended.


MASCAGNI Cavalleria rusticana (3 performances)1, 2, 3 • 1various conds; 2Lorenzo Molajoli, 3Pietro Mascagni, cond; 1Dusolina Giannini, 2Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, 3Lina Bruna-Rasa (Santuzza); 1Beniamino Gigli, 2, 3Antonio Melandri (Turridu); 1Carlo Tagliabue, 2Gino Lulli, 3Afro Poli (Alfio); 1Claramae Turner, 2Ida Mannarini, 3Rina Gallo-Toscani (Mamma Lucia); 1Anna Kaskas, 2Maria Castagna, 3Maria Meloni (Lola); 1Ch & O of the Metropolitan Op House, New York; 2Ch & O of La Scala, Milan; 3Ch & O of the Op Italiana d’Olanda • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1082 (3 CDs: 229:52) 3Live: Dutch Royal Theater, Hague, Holland 11/7/1938

& MASCAGNI Cavalleria rusticana: Voi lo sapete. VERDI La forza del destino: Sono giunta!...Madre, pietosa Vergine. Pace, pace mio Dio! STRAUSS Zueignung. TRAD Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms. Manella mia. (Dusolina Giannini, various accompaniments)

Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
September / October 2017

Gathering together three great assumptions of the role of Santuzza from the 1930s, this set has huge documentary value. Collectors will surely be familiar with Richard Caniell’s previous work on the composer-directed Holland performance (Guild 2241), but even if that were the single Cav here, the new release would be worth purchase. The sound is clearer, more vivid; and Lina Bruna Rasa was the composer’s favorite Santuzza, to boot. But there are two other reasons to obtain this set: Dusolina Giannini in one of Caniell’s famous composite performances (and with a few bonus tracks with Giannini thrown in for good measure), plus Giannina Arangi-Lombardi in Molajoli’s Columbia set, recorded in 1930. Thus it is that Immortal Performances’s set contains the three major types of reissue it excels at: composite (akin to the “dream casts”), live, and transfer.

The first Cav is the composite performance. The Prelude (Met, Pappi, c. 1926 from a Brunswick) is given with a real sense of tendresse at its opening, with Gigli’s Serenade from an April 1940 recording as an insert. There is remarkable detail to the Prelude, while the “O Lola” finds Gigli in full Italianate flow, if with little sense of off-stage distancing. Gigli’s contributions to this particular Cav are always strong and focused, yet, as his “Intanto, amici, qua!” shows, he can be incredibly sweet-toned. The strong Met Chorus is a real boon to Setti’s nice, flowing tempo for the opening chorus (from a Victor original); it returns under Setti for the Easter Chorus, here a masterpiece of devotion, the journey to its overwhelming climax a masterpiece of timing from the conductor. The interactions between Giannini and Claramae Turner after Santuzza’s entry (Standard Hour, 1943) carry all the power of a performance live in an opera house. Carlo Tagliabue’s “Il cavale scalpita,” from a Cetra original, is full of life. Tagliabue’s high register is impeccably strong.

Giannini’s “Voi lo sapete” returns us to the Standard Hour, a fine performance of great interior emotion that finds Giannini able to shade her voice and phrasing with kaleidoscopic imagination; this of all tracks in this performance rewards repeated listening, while the Giannini/Gigli duet “Tu qui, Santuzza” (Victor, 1932) carries huge power, not least because of Gigli’s pure vocal heft. From Gigli’s wonderful “Intanto, amici, qua!” through to the end is taken from a 1927 Vitograph original from the Manhattan Opera House; the Met Chorus and Orchestra, listed on the label as the “Vitaphone Symphony” is conducted by Herman Heller. The power of the combined talents of Gigli, Tagliabue, and Turner comes through, with Gigli’s cries of “Mama” being heart-wrenching. Interestingly, this Vitaphone recording was never released on commercial discs.

This is a nearly complete performance (only the Santuzza-Alfio duet is absent). That does mean there is space for a Giannini bonus, however: a supplemental “Voi lo sapete” with a rather inferior orchestra, yet imbued with great impetus from the singer; a hugely powerful “Son guinta!” with a searing top and a “Pace, pace” full of grace from Verdi’s Forza. There follows a Milton Cross-announced New York Philharmonic concert from March 1, 1936 at which Giannini was accompanied by Edwin McArthur on piano. Her performance of Strauss’s Zueignung (mispronounced by Cross as “Zeignung”) is glorious. Even the piano is well captured. If some have given this in even more radiant voice (it was a Jessye Norman favorite), the way Giannini caresses the phrases is beautiful, sculpting the performance until the final climactic high note seems inevitable. If the song Believe me, in all those endearing young charms is sweet, it is clear Giannini believes in it; finally, and with orchestra, comes the slinky Neapolitan folksong Manella mia (it may bring Carmen to mind).

The second performance of Cav is taken from a Columbia original and was recorded in 1930. Both this and the final offering feature Antonio Melandri as Turiddu. He was active at La Scala from 1926 until 1934; Richard Caniell equates his voice with that of Ramon Vinay, which should give you some sort of reference point. The Columbia is the earlier of the two performances, and Melandri’s voice is in fine fettle. His opening Serenade is strong and virile, as is his Brindisi. Molajoli is a fine steersman through this Cav, and he can create the true spirit of the piece as well as accuracy at times (try the strings at “Fior di giaggiolo”); only his Intermezzo veers towards the tepid. A man of the theater through and through, he finds tremendous orchestral detail, often anchoring the orchestral sound from the bass up. The lower orchestral contribution propels the tension in the section from “A voi tutte, saluti,” for example. Giannina Arangi-Lombardi only made four complete operatic recordings (this is one; the others are Aida, Gioconda, and Helen of Troy in Mefistofele). She does seem to have the perfect voice for this repertoire. There is a slight, not unpleasant, edge to her voice which adds significantly to its expressivity. Her “Voi lo sapete” is one of the true highlights of this performance, given over a bed of glowing warmth in the strings.

If Lulli is slightly nondescript in his “Il cavallo scalpita” in comparison with Tagliabue, he is an acceptable Alfio. Similarly, while Claramae Turner is a superior Lola to Mannarini’s, there is no doubting that Mannarini makes an effective pairing with Lulli. There is some coloring in the recording to the opening choral contributions, but this remains an interesting contribution to the set, not least for Melandri and Arangi-Lombardi. Incidentally, Arangi-Lombardi crops up in The EMI Record of Singing, Volume Three (Testament) singing, in 1934, an excerpt from, strangely enough, I Lombardi (“Te, Vergin santa”), an excerpt which, I confess, was my total prior exposure to her art prior to this Cavalleria.

Finally, we have the live composer-conducted account from Holland. The sound seems cleaner than on the Guild issue, and makes for more comfortable listening, so that the gorgeous opening (this is by far the finest of the three Preludes presented here) can really make its mark. Bells, too, are well caught (as is a rather interruptive cough from an audience member while those bells are in progress). Melandri offers another superb serenade, but the star really is the strings of Mascagni’s orchestra (of the “Opera Italiana d’Olanda”). Melandri’s strong voice has a noticeable burnished tone, almost baritonal at times, and he is at full strength (from “Tu qui, Santuzza” onwards); his final contributions in the opera are splendidly powerful dramatically. Joining Melandri is the superb Lina Bruna-Rasa, Mascagni’s own preferred Santuzza, who gives a vocally searing “Vo la sapete” (listen also, perhaps, to the sensitivity of the orchestra at the close of that aria). Afro Poli’s “A voi salute” is simply superb; Maria Meloni gives a fine account of Lola. The Dutch orchestra here really seems to give it all; just try the famous Intermezzo, and the gritty, perfectly unanimous attacks at the outset of climactic phrases. To have these three performances in once place offers a remarkable opportunity to explore this affecting drama in performances that hold huge historical significance.

As usual, documentation is as generous as the timings of these well-filled discs. A fascinating journey into the performance history of a major operatic masterwork.

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