Leoncavallo;I Pagliacci インポート
If Tullio Serafin's Pagliacci is too slow for your taste, try Renato Cellini, who is sometimes a bit brisk. And if you want beautiful voices more than intense characterization, you are not likely to find two more satisfying than Jussi Bjoerling and Victoria de los Angeles--not to mention the two great baritones and the first-class chorus in this production. Any recording with Bjoerling and de los Angeles deserves attention (for example, the La Boheme conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham and recently reissued by Sony). Come to think of it, any recording with Zinka Milanov and Bjoerling deserves attention. And any recording with Giovanni Tebaldi and Bjoerling. This one-disc edition is also suitable for people (there must be a few) who want I Pagliacci but don't want Cavalleria Rusticana. --Joe McLellan
Pagliacci (1892), the only lasting success of Leoncavallo, has long shared honors with Cavalleria Rusticana (1890), the only lasting success of Mascagni, as the two most popular short operas in the standard repertoire. "Cav and Pag," sometimes familiarly known as the "ham and eggs" of Italian opera, have also long been joined at the hip as the world's most popular operatic double-bill. Both are verismo operas (Italian realism or naturalism featuring earthy characters from ordinary walks of life, fierce passions, and resulting violence) set in the south of Italy, with simple plots turning on sexual jealousy which results in murder. (Many have the misapprehension that they are both one-act operas; Cav is, but Pag, though short, is actually in two acts.)
Caruso popularized the opera, making Canio virtually his trademark role, and since his time most of the major tenors of Italian opera have sung the role. Today, you can have your pick of complete Pagliacci recordings by Gigli, Bjorling, Tucker, Di Stefano, Del Monaco, Corelli, Bergonzi, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, and others. The larder is well stocked.
This monaural studio recording was made by RCA in Manhattan in 1953 and originally issued on LP by RCA. In 1989 EMI issued a CD version of it (and that's the one that this particular listing is for), which I bought upon its release and would recommend that you avoid; it is thin, hard, and overbright--not a successful transfer. EMI wisely remastered it in 1998, at mid-price, and in 2003 issued the 1998 remastering again at budget price. The 1998 remastering sounds fine and is a significant improvement over this 1989 EMI issue. The sound is monaural, of course, and is inevitably dated, but it is clear, natural, and well focused.
What makes this version so distinguished, what makes it stand out in a field so full of competitors, can be expressed in two words: great voices. Talk about prodigally luxurious casting: four of the greatest voices of the day, and indeed of the twentieth century, are the principals here. The rich, resonant, plush baritones of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill; the luminous, radiant soprano of Victoria De Los Angeles, arguably the most beautiful lyric soprano voice of her time; and above all--for this is primarily a tenor's opera--the uniquely beautiful and incomparably brilliant and thrilling tenor voice of Jussi Bjorling, considered by many good judges the pre-eminent tenor since Caruso in the standard Italian and French repertoire. Bjorling's Canio eschews the extra-musical emoting---the gulps, sobs, and blubbering--indulged in by some tenors in this role; instead, he manages to convey the requisite passion entirely in his singing. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that these four opulent voices had no true peers even in the abundantly endowed operatic world of the 1950s, and they certainly have no peers today: no one could now assemble such a cast for Pagliacci.
The studio orchestra and chorus are both excellent. Renato Cellini conducts a taut, dramatic, well-shaped performance that permits his singers to make the most of their resources. And what magnificent resources they are! All four principals are in splendid voice; all are caught here in their prime. (One oddity worth noting: it is Warren, as Tonio, rather than Bjorling, as Canio, who sings the opera's final line, "La commedia e finita!" This was the original form of the opera's ending.)
I have a number of recordings of Pagliacci, but this one would be my pick, even at full price. For those who must have a stereo recording, or who would like an alternative version, the Corelli/von Matacic on EMI and the Bergonzi/von Karajan on DGG can be recommended. Those who like Bjorling's work here may want to acquire the fine Cavalleria Rusticana on RCA with Bjorling, Milanov, and Merrill, Cellini conducting (also recorded in 1953), in which Bjorling sings the best Turiddu on record.