Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana – opera in one act (1890)
Turridu – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Santuzza – Eileen Farrell (soprano)
Mamma Lucia – Lili Chookasian (alto)
Alfio – Cesare Bardelli (baritone)
Lola – Mildred Miller (mezzo)
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
Pagliacci - opera in prologue and two acts (1892)
Tonio – Anselmo Colzani (baritone)
Canio – Franco Corelli (tenor)
Beppe – Franco Ghitti (tenor)
Nedda – Lucine Almara (soprano)
Silvio – Calvin Marsh (baritone)
rec. live, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 11 April 1964, Mono
SONY CLASSICAL 88691 90999 2 [76:08 + 70:05]

The latest Met Matinee Broadcast reissue showcases opera’s most famous double-act. As with many of these Met releases, it’s a mixed success.
With Cavalleria, it’s the set’s two leads that are worth hearing. It’s easy to see why the village girls all fall for Tucker’s Turridu, a silver-tongued devil with a rakish edge. There is a gleaming, burnished quality to his voice that is most appealing. He is very fine in the duet with Santuzza, as well as in the drinking song, though his final appeal to his mother perhaps goes a little over the top. Eileen Farrell, in her final Met broadcast, gets off to a slightly iffy start, but her voice achieves marvellous intensity for Voi lo sapete and she leads the Easter hymn very well indeed. She, too, is good in the duet, but her final denunciation of Turridu is rather too pantomimish. Bardelli’s Alfio is solid, if nothing special, and both Miller’s Lola and Chookasian’s Mamma Lucia are a little anonymous. The choral singing becomes very good in the Easter Hymn but they sound excessively raw in their entries. That leads to the biggest problem: the limitations of the 1964 mono sound and the live performance. Mascagni’s lovely score often needs to float on the air, especially in the opening interchanges between the male and female choruses, but the boxy, rather close sound leaves no room for subtlety or shading, and that also affects the string tone for the Intermezzo, which is uncomfortably thick.
Pagliacci is a similarly mixed success. The most successful role is Lucine Amara’s Nedda, a properly sexy vamp. Her tone is seductive and alluring during her aria, and tender during the duet with Silvio, but she achieves thrilling defiance in the final scene, raising the roof with the quality of the tension. Be in no doubt that the chief “attraction” of the set is Franco Corelli’s Canio. Corelli’s fog-horn tendencies are on full display, and he will neither disappoint his fans nor confound his critics. However, I found little to warm to here. The opening scene, Un grande spettacolo, is marred by self-indulgent posturing, often swooning over a note rather than hitting it cleanly, and the subsequent aria, Un tal gioco, is sapped of any tension by the ham with which he overacts it. Admittedly, he uses his tone to thrilling effect when he catches Nedda and Silvio, and the great cry of Ridi, Pagliaccio is super, but he gasps and blows his way through the final scene without any control, and the final minutes of his interpretation threaten to depart from what most of us would perceive as music! The other roles are solid but unexceptional, Tonio sounding suitably malevolent and Silvio sounding convincingly love-struck.
In both operas, Nello Santi conducts like a true-blue Italian, injecting plenty of red-blooded fire into the score and making it bristle with passion. That said, he doesn’t always manage to shade the gentler moments, such as they are, with enough contrast. I also found his choice of tempi unhelpful in much of Pagliacci, however, sometimes draining the tension rather than tightening it. The playing of the orchestra is good but, again, the quality of the sound recording doesn’t help.
So it’s an iffy release, and probably only for die-hard fans of the leads; and, believe me, you would have to be a serious Corelli fan to buy this set for his contribution! In that, it shares one of the chief drawbacks of these Met broadcast re-releases: they tend to showcase the achievements of particular stars in their heydays, in this case Tucker and Corelli. They don’t really work as total realisations of the work in hand, and I don’t think many of them would bear repeated listenings, with the probable exception of their Meistersinger. The budget price helps, but explore only with caution. The package includes an un-cued synopsis but no libretto.
Simon Thompson

An iffy release, and probably only for die-hard fans of the leads.