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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
Santuzza – Alexia Voulgaridou (soprano)
Lola – Marina Ogii (mezzo-soprano)
Turiddu – Angelo Villari (tenor)
Compar Alfio – Devid Cecconi (baritone)
Mamma Lucia – Elena Zilio (mezzo-soprano)
Una donna – Cristina Pagliai (soprano)
Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Valerio Galli
rec. live, February 2019, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentin, Italy
Libretto with English translation enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS7843 [72:36]

n July 1888 the music publisher Edoardo Sonzogno announced a competition where young composers who had never had an opera performed were invited to submit a one-act opera. The best three would be staged in Rome. The young Pietro Mascagni learnt about the competition only two months before the closing date. Two friends of his were asked to write the libretto, which they delivered piecemeal, often just a verse or two on the back of a postcard. Mascagni worked fast and was able to finish it just in time and it was submitted exactly on closing date. He didn’t have great hopes for success or much belief in his capacity as composer and had second thoughts about participating at all, so it was his wife who sent the score to Sonsogno without Mascagni’s knowledge. He was truly surprised when his contribution was selected by the jury as one of the three finalists out of a total of 73 submitted operas. At the premiere on 17 May 1890 at the Costanzi theatre Cavalleria was met with ovations and has ever since been performed around the world. For many years it was more or less invariably staged together with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci but of late directors have now and then opted for other combinations. In February 2019, when the present recording was made, it was presented in harness with Offenbach’s Un mari la porte, a work also dealing with jealousy. It should be added that the other two finalists in the competion are today totally forgotten, and though Mascagni continued to compose operas, none of them had a success comparable to Cavalleria. The composer later said: “I was crowned before being king.”

But Cavalleria rusticana can still captivate an audience in a well-sung production and the audience response at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino was enthusiastic, as can be heard on the recording. The recording is excellent and there is sheen in the string section in the prelude. Turiddu’s siciliana is very distant and the tone is a little worn, but he rehabilitates later on. The chorus is good, in particular in the great Regina coeli (tr. 7) with a magnificent build-up of tension. Devid Cecconi’s Alfio is dry-voiced in Il cavallo scalpita (tr. 5), but Alexia Voulgaridou’s Santuzza is superb, vibrant and intense with impressive power and brilliance. Listen to Voi lo sapete (tr. 8), she can really compete with the best. She is also great in the confrontation with Turiddu (tr. 9-11), the dramatic high-spot of the opera. Angelo Villardi is powerful but not too subtle, but in this incarnation of verismo subtlety is not the prime consideration, even though Carlo Bergonzi shows, in his legendary recording with Karajan, that there is room for nuances even here. But the animal brutality in this scene is without doubt thrilling, and as a listener one feels relief when they separate. It doesn’t last long, however, for the feelings are just as strong when Alfio appears. He is a bit wooden of tone but his agitation comes through convincingly and his intensity is great. As of course is Santuzza’s. When they leave and the stage is empty the famous Intermezzo comes as balm for the wounded soul. It is sensitively played and is duly applauded – but I missed the organ.

The drinking scene at Mamma Lucia tavern is lively and Turiddu’s Viva il vino spumeggiante (tr. 16) is sung with glow and verve, and the chorus responds with comparable glow. In the finale Turiddu rises to the occasion in his touching farewell to his mother, Mamma, quell vino generoso (tr. 18). Intensely emotional this is verismo singing of the highest order – a truly magnificent farewell before the unavoidable end, when the women rush in and a solo soprano cries Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu! (Turiddu has been killed!).

Strong emotions and hair-raising drama that generate copious amounts of energy. The involvement is high, Elena Zilio as Mamma Lucia and Marina Oglii as Lola are well in the picture in there small but important roles, Devid Cecconi’s grows but the real stars are Angelo Villari’s Turiddu and, even more, Alexia Voulgaridou’s superb Santuzza.

There is no dearth of recordings of Cavalleria rusticana. Since the first acoustic attempt it has been recorded more than 100 times, including twice with the composer conducting. Truly legendary is the EMI recording from 1940, made for the 50th anniversary of the premiere with Beniamino Gigli as Turiddu and with a spoken introduction by the composer. This newcomer has of course keen competition and can hardly be a first recommendation, but in its own rights it has a lot to offer, in particular the singing of Alexia Voulgaridou and Angelo Villari.

Gran Forsling

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