Ildebrando Pizzetti: Murder in the cathedral. And more

Ildebrando Pizzetti – along with Respighi, Zandonai, Alfano and Malipiero, among others – belonged to the so-called ‘Generazione dell’80’, a group of Italian composers born around 1880. What they all had in common was a certain leaning towards neoclassicism and an interest in Renaissance and Byzantine music.

All this is prominent in Assassinio nella Cattedrale, a musical drama based on T.S. Elliott’s play Murder in the cathedral, for which Pizzetti himself wrote the libretto. I think it is a beauty of a piece, with a very strong libretto, beautiful choral parts and a perfectly crafted leading role that gives a good bass-baritone all the room it needs to shine. Incredible really that the opera is still so rarely performed.

This Decca recording was filmed in December 2006 in the dazzling Basilica di San Nicola in Bari. It all makes it feel very authentic, although I think it must have been more impressive live than on DVD. Logical, really.

The performance itself is fine, not overwhelming, but certainly sufficient. The Archbishop’s rise does make a huge impression, it’s a lot like Scarpia’s first rise; that makes you quiet. Especially when the singer in question is called Ruggero Raimondi. His voice has become a bit dry, but he is a real theatre animal and puts down a very impressive Thomas Becket


The premiere of Assassinio nella Cattedrale took place at La Scala in Milan, in March 1958. The leading roles were sung by Nicola Rossi-Lemeni for whom Pizetti composed the opera and Leyla Gencer.

Shortly after its premiere, the opera was recorded live in Turin. Absolutely indispensable for the ‘Generazione dell’80’ and verism lover (Stradivarius STR 10067/57)

Virginia Zeani in an aria from the recording:

Should you want to hear more from Pizzetti (which I can well imagine), I can recommend the recording of Debora e Jaele. The cast is to please, with the very impressive Clara Petrella leading the way in the role of Jaele. The opera was recorded inMilan in 1952, Gianandrea Gavazzeni condted (GOP 66.354)


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