English

Mirga Gražinytė -Tyla lifts Weinberg’s autobiography to unprecedented heights

Weinberg Grazynite

Weinberg’s 21st symphony is not a work you can simply listen to. It presents itself as Weinberg’s autobiography: his escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, his arrival and stay in the Soviet Union and his fight with the authorities and the memories. The structure of the symphony is incredibly complex – irreverently one could say that it is unbalanced, because all kinds of things happen in it. Chopin (‘Ballade in g’, ‘Marche Funèbre’), Mahler’s ‘Mutter, ach Mutter’ from his Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a klezmer tune carried by a solo clarinet that turns into a Requiem.

However, aren’t our memories like that? Disordered, one emotion evoking another? Weinberg dedicated his ‘Kaddish’ (one of the most important prayers in the Jewish liturgy that is pronounced after the death of a parent) – symphony from 1991 to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto. Distressing. Just like the life of Weinberg himself.

But do not forget the second symphony! The Adagio is an eleven-minute sadness that hurts so much that it can only lead to a satirical outburst in part three, the Allegretto. My God, what music. What a composer.

I can be brief on the performance. Brilliant. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla confirms her reputation as one of the best young conductors of today. Under her leadership the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra sounds like I haven’t heard it in years, not since the very young and unknown Simon Rattle first took over the reins there. It is therefore gratifying that she has been awarded an exclusive contract with DG.

That she chose Weinberg’s Kaddish for her first recording on the ‘yellow label’ is significant. Knowing her (and her preferences) we can expect exciting recordings of unknown and lesser known works. Go, Mirga, go!

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

MIECZYSŁAW WEINBERG
Symphony no. 2 on. 30; Symphony no. 21 op. 152 (Kaddish)
Gidon Kremer (violin), Maria Barns (soprano), Oliver Janes (clarinet), Georgijs Osokins (piano), Iurii Gavryliuk (double bass)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica conducted by Mirga Gražinytė -Tyla
DG 48365661Kreme

In Dutch: Mirga Gražinytė -Tyla tilt Weinbergs autobiografie tot de ongekende hoogten

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Britten’s Billy Budd: brilliant music to a brilliant libretto

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Perfect goodness, does it have the right to exist? In his novel Billy Budd, Herman Melville set the absolute evil against the perfect goodness and made them perish both.

billy-melville

The story about the angelically beautiful, honest but oh so simple and naive Billy, that takes place on a ship with only men and between men, has of course always had a double meaning. Some things could only be implied. Maybe that was a good thing, because it produced some real masterpieces.

One of them was a film by Peter Ustinov starring Terence Stamp.

Below is a trailer of the film:

And one of the best, at least for me, operas of the twentieth century.

britten

For Benjamin Britten it was a rewarding theme. Elements such as the individual versus society, corruption, sadism, despair, a sense of responsibility and, of course, homo-eroticism were often used by him in his works. He was also able to include his pacifist ideas in them.

The story can be told quickly: Billy Budd is accused of treason by Claggart, the Master-at-Arms. He then strikes his accuser dead, and is sentenced to hang by Captain Vere. However, in the background, feelings of love, powerlessness and revenge play the real leading role.

For Claggart, the personification of evil, it is clear that he must destroy beauty, otherwise it will be his own downfall. “Having seen you, what choice remains to me? With hate and envy, I am stronger than love” he sings in his big, almost Iago-like aria ‘O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness’.

Captain Vere, aware of his true feelings for the young sailor, doesn’t have the courage to save his life. Only years later, looking back at the events of that time, he realizes that he should have acted differently.

WORLD PREMIERE 1951

billy-uppman

Billy Budd is a role that is traditionally played by a (very) attractive singer. He has to be, he is not called a ‘beauty’ and a ‘baby’ for nothing. He is almost always put on the stage partially or even completely shirtless – no wonder that almost all of the baritones that are labeled as the ‘hottest’ have the role on their repertoire nowadays.

Britten himself is not entirely blameless in this. His very first Billy, Theodor Uppman, was personally selected by him for his exceptionally attractive appearance. Not that he couldn’t sing, on the contrary! The American baritone had a very pleasant, warm timbre, in which naivety went hand in hand with hidden sex appeal.

The world premiere took place on December 1, 1951 in the ROH in Covent Garden and the recording of it has fortunately been preserved (VAIA 1034-3). It is particularly fascinating to hear the voices of the singers for whom the opera was originally created.

The role of Captain Vere was written for Britten’s partner, Peter Pears. Not the most beautiful tenor voice in the world, but one with character, body and great ability to express things. The role of Claggart was sung by a good (but no more than that) Frederic Dalberg and in the smaller roles of Mr. Redburn and Mr. Flint we hear the future greats: Geraint Evans and Michael Langdon. The sound quality is amazingly good.

In 1952 Billy Budd was recorded with Upmann in the lead role for television. There is a video recording of it:

In the sixties Britten adapted and made his opera tighter: he turned the four acts into two. The new version had its premiere in 1964, under Georg Solti.

BBC, 1966

billy-glossop

In 1966 the BBC recorded the work in their studios for TV and a while ago it was released on DVD (Decca 0743256). The role of Captain Verre was again sung by Peter Pears, now audibly older, but also more experienced. And he is helped by the images: his portrait of the desperate and guilty old captain is of an unprecedented intensity.

For the role of Billy a young English baritone, Peter Glossop, was asked – it has been said that Uppman had by now become visibly too old for the role. It is also said that Britten was considering asking Fischer-Dieskau for that role. I don’t know if it’s true (since Britten himself wanted a handsome young man for the role, the rumours seem to me to be no more than rumours), but imagine! I don’t even want to think about it!

Glossop is much rougher than all the other Billy’s I know, he is also on the robust side, but it’s nowhere disturbing. It’s hard to call him a ‘baby’, but he’s very attractive and he has the power to kill someone with a slap of his arm.

Michael London has been promoted from Mr. Flint to Claggart, a role that fits him like a glove. In the smaller roles we meet again singers of name: John Shirley Quirk (Mr. Redburn), Benjamin Luxon (Novice’s Friend) and as Novice a truly inimitable young Robert Tear.

The London Symphony Orchest is led by the ever-reliable Charles Mackerras.

It is filmed in black and white and the very realistic images make you feel as if you are in the middle of an old classic, which is of course true. It is a movie. It’s certainly fascinating and a must, but of course not comparable to a live performance in the theatre.

ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA, 1988

billy-allen

It took almost 20 years before the next Billy presented himself, at least on an official document: in 1988 Tim Albery staged the opera at the ENO (Arthaus Musik 100 278).

The production is both visually and musically very strong. The production is tight and to the point, the images speak to the imagination and the libretto is followed very faithfully. Here no spectacular shots: it is also simply filmed in the house.

As for the performance … Well, the big word has to be said: it’s the best ever and I just can’t imagine that it will ever be matched again.

Thomas Allen is Billy. He has everything to make the role his own and he will probably be associated with it for eternity. He has the looks, he can act and he has a voice that makes you melt. His “Look! Through the port comes the moonshine astray” (he was the first to include the aria in his song recitals – now every baritone does it) can’t leave you unmoved.

Philip Langridge (Vere) convinces me even more than Peter Pears and Richard Van Allan seems like a devil in persona. The English National Opera Orchestra is outstandingly conducted by David Atherton.

Below Thomas Allen as Billy:

CHANDOS, 2000

billy-keenlyside

12 years later, in 2000, the opera was recorded “semi-live” for Chandos (CHAN 9826(3)). That is to say: it was recorded in the studio, but after a series of concert performances in the Barbican Hall.

Richard Hickox is an excellent conductor, but no match for Atherton or Mackerras. But the cast is again sublime and if I could take one opera CD to a deserted island then the chances are that it will be this Billy.

John Tomlinson is probably the strongest of all Claggarts ever, especially vocally. What a dominance and what an authority!  Philip Langridge repeats his brilliant Vere and Simon Keenlyside is, at least for me, one of the best Billys after Thomas Allen.

He is less naive than Allen, tougher than Uppman but much softer than Glossop. He is the goodness … So beautiful! Mark Padmore deserves a special mention as Novice.

Below Simon Keenlyside as Billy:

VIRGIN CLASSICS, 2008

billy-gunn

In 2008 the opera was recorded by VirginClassics (50999 5190393). The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Daniel Harding. Definitely good, but more beautiful than the recordings above? Well, no.

Here the role of Billy is sung by one of the greatest American ‘barihunks’ of the moment, Nathan Gunn. I’ve heard the singer live a couple of times and I know how charismatic he is, but I’d rather choose one of his colleagues. His Billy is too self-confident for me, too present too.

Gidon Saks has a great voice, but it’s not enough for Claggart. Besides, he sounds too young. And I can be brief about Ian Bostridge (Vere): mannered. Like everything he touches, his Vere is his narcissistic alter ego instead of a character from the story.

If the recording hadn’t come out on CD but on DVD, I probably would have liked it better, especially because of Nathan Gunn’s part, because optically he is really more than admirable.

Below Nathan Gunn as Billy:

GLYNDEBOURNE, 2010

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In the production of Michael Grandage (Opus Arte OA 1051 D) recorded in Glyndebourne in June 2010, we are actually on the military vessel, in the middle of the sea. The time of action is also clear: the eighteenth century.

The costumes are very realistic and everything that happens on stage is also in the libretto. The decor is beautiful and leaves a overwhelming impression. Here one can only utter ‘oh’ and ‘ah.’ But it is not only the entourage that impresses. Michael Grandage, who makes his opera debut with this, creates an atmosphere that is psychologically quite charged. The tension is excruciating. I can’t stop talking about how he directs the characters either. You rarely experience such an intelligent production these days.

We witnessed Jacques Imbrailo’s phenomenal Billy in Amsterdam in March 2011, but here, also thanks to the close-ups, he impresses even more.

John Mark Ainsley is inimitably good as Vere and Philip Ens convince as the evil spirit Claggart. Ben Johnson is a very moving Novice and Jeremy White a more than excellent Dansker.

Below is Jacques Imbrailo as Billy:


the article in Dutch:
BILLY BUDD: geniale muziek bij een geniaal libretto

Interview with Sir Thomas Allen:
SIR THOMAS ALLEN

Billy Budd in Düssseldorf:
IMMO KARAMAN regisseert BRITTEN in Düsseldorf. Deel 2: BILLY BUDD

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Michael Fabiano triumphs with his first CD recital

Tamara-cover-square

For me, the fact that Michael Fabiano was going to make it was indisputable. From the very first time I saw and heard him, in the highly recommended documentary The Audition, I knew for sure, the winner had arrived. That year (2007) the competition was extremely strong, with Jamie Barton, Angela Meade and Alek Shrader among the finalists. To stand out in that company you had to be really special and Fabiano certainly was.

The young tenor, then only 22, who so fiercely contended all his opponents, not only showed himself to be extremely talented, but in his self-confident attitude and urge to win also a fighter a stayer. I wasn’t mistaken and now, twelve years later, Fabiano is one of the biggest tenors in the world. He has now released his first solo CD, for the Dutch record label Pentatone.

It is a dream of a recital, not only for the gorgeous voice of Fabiano (and the beautiful accompaniment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Enrique Mazzola), but also for his choice of repertoire.

Fabiano chose arias that link Donizetti’s gradually maturing and developing belcanto (from Lucia, via Poliuto to Maria di Rohan) directly to Verdi’s early operas. In doing so (hurrah, hurrah!) he has often opted for the original versions of the arias. For instance, he sings ‘Qual sangue sparsi,’ the tenor aria from the original Saint-Petersburg version of La Forza del Destino.

Already in the first aria from Luisa Miller he totally has me in his power: his diminuendo! My God! Enough to stop the heart of any opera lover. There is a single mishap: ‘La donna é mobile’ (Rigoletto). Not that he sings it badly, although I think he has outgrown the Duke already. It’s just that it’ s superfluous.


GIUSEPPE VERDI, GAETANO DONIZETTI
Opera Arias
Michael Fabiano
London Voices, London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Enrique Mazzola
Pentatone PTC5186750

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

In Dutch: Michael Fabiano overrompelt met zijn eerste cd-recital

Interview with Fabiano: MICHAEL FABIANO: interview (English)

The intoxicating sound of Franz Schreker

Schreker

THE SOUND

On the threshold of the twentieth century, many artists were guided in their work by the desire – and the search – for a perfect world. It had to do with the spirit of the times, among other things, and it influenced many painters, writers, poets and composers in their work. But with no other artist it was as prominent as with Franz Schreker (1878-1934). The search for ‘the’ sound dominated his entire life, he was fascinated and obsessed with it. A sound that would die of its own accord, but not really, because it had to continue to be heard – if only in your thoughts. It had to be a pure sound, but one with orgasmic desire and interwoven with visions. Intoxicating. Narcotic. In his music I really hear the perfect sound that he so desired which makes me intensely happy.

For Schreker you can wake me up in the middle of the night. The fusion of shameless emotions with undisguised eroticism and intense beauty turns me into an ‘Alice in wonderland’. I want more and more of it. Call me a junkie. I consider his operas to be the most beautiful in existence, alongside those of Puccini and Korngold.

DIE GEZEICHNETEN

Schreket noten

The idea came from Zemlinsky. He wanted to compose an opera about an ugly man – his obsession – and commissioned the libretto from Schreker. After finishing his work, it was hard for Schreker to give up his text. Fortunately, Zemlinsky abandoned the opera so Schreker started to compose himself.

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Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Schreker in Prague 1912

Like Der Ferne Klang, perhaps his best-known work, Die Gezeichneten also deals with the search for unattainable ideals. Alviano, a deformed rich nobleman from Genoa, dreams of beauty and perfection. On an island he has ‘Elysium’ built, a place where he hopes to realize his ideals. What he doesn’t know is that the noblemen abuse his island: they are engaged in orgies, rapes and even murders.

Schreker affiche

The title of the opera is ambiguous. Not only are the main characters ‘marked’ (Alviano by his monstrous appearance and Carlotta by a deadly illness), Carlotta also makes a drawing of Alviano, in which she tries to capture his soul.

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Alviano: photo from the premiere in Frankfurt 1918 via Green Integer Blog

This beautiful opera, with its thousands of colours and sensual sounds (just listen to the overture, goosebumps!), is being staged more and more nowadays. In 1990 it was performed at the Saturday Matinee, with an ugly singing but very involved and therefore very vulnerable William Cochran as Alviano and a phenomenal Marilyn Schmiege as Carlotta (Marco Polo 8.223328-330).

schreker-vara

ENTARTETE MUSIC

When the Nazis came to power, Schreker was labelled an ‘entartet’. His works were banned and no longer performed. In 1933 he was dismissed from all his engagements and suspended. Schreker was devastated. In December of that year he suffered a heart attack which became fatal to him. But even after the war Schreker was hardly ever performed. The same fate awaited him as (among others) Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Waxman …. An unprecedented number of names of composers. They were once labeled ‘Entartet’ by the Nazis and banned, reviled, expelled and murdered. Forgotten. And that was not just the fault of the Nazis.

After the war, the young generation of composers did not want to know about emotions anymore. Music had to be devoid of any sentiment and subject to strict rules. Music had to become universal: serialism was born. The past was dealt with, including composers from the 1930s. It is only in the last twenty years that the once forbidden composers have regained their voices. The Saturday Matinee has played a major role in this and I thank them on my bare knees for that.

LISTENING SUGGESTIONS:

Vorspiel zu einem Drama’, a Prelude created by the composer himself for ‘Die Gezeichneten’:

Evelyn Lear (Carlotta) and Helmut Krebs (Alviano), scene from the second act:

 

On Spotify you can find several performances of the complete opera.

If you want to have images as well: below you will find the recording from Salzburg 2005.

 

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

After the Darkness: the Hague String Trio brings suppressed composers back to life

Haags strijktrio cover

The title of this CD is taken from the book with the same name by Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘After the Darkness: Reflections on the Holocaust’.

 

Gideon Klein and Hans Krása:

 

Hans Krása (1899-1944) and Gideon Klein (1919-1945) ended up in the Terezín concentration camp (Theresienstadt), before being deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered. But until that time they continued to compose as well as they could. In Terezín, yes. That is where both Krása’s Passacaglia & Fugue and Tanec (Dance) were composed, as well as Gideon Klein’s incredibly beautiful String Trio.

 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Laszlo Weiner

Lászlo Weiner

The Hungarian Lászlo Weiner (1916-1944) was deported in February 1943 to the labour camp in Lukov (Slovakia), where he was murdered a year later. I had not heard his Serenade for string trio from 1938 before. Why is that? It’s just beautiful!

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Dick Kattenburg

Dick Kattenburg

The Dutchman Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944) did not survive the war either: on May 19, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz. His Trio à cordes sees its world premiere here. I can’t listen to this with dry eyes. Yes, I know, I know, one has to limit oneself to the music, but sometimes it is so damn difficult! But trust me, the standard of what is on offer is of the highest quality and that the work is still performed so infrequently is due to… What actually? Uwillingness? Guilt?

This year it is exactly one hundred years ago that Klein, Weiner, Kattenburg and Weinberg were born. You would expect at least something in the form of (small) memorial concerts, wouldn’t you?

Haags strijktrio

The Hague String Trio (Justyna Briefjes, Julia Dinerstein and Miriam Kirby) was founded in 2006. In the booklet they tell us that After The Darkness is a project close to their heart, which certainly can be heard. “We feel it is a privilege to bring the music of these composers to life and to create a lasting legacy, so that their voices are never forgotten”. Thank you!


Krása: Passacaglia & Fugue – Tanec (Theresienstadt 1944)
Small: Ironing trio (Theresienstadt 1944)
Weiner: Serenade (1938)
Kattenburg: String Trio (1937/39)
Weinberg: String trio on. 48 (1950)
The Hague String Trio
Cobra Records 0065

After the Darkness

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Why don’t we see Martinů’s Greek Passion more often?

Greek Passion martinu-600 Universal Edition Magazine

Once, years ago I begged the gods (and the staff of DNO) to put by Bohuslav Martinů’s The Greek Passion on the repertoire list. In vain. It doesn’t even have to be a new production, on the contrary! There is a beautiful staging made by David Pountney. It was first performed in 1999 in Bregenz (this was the first version of the opera), and a few years later at the Royal Opera House in London.

I saw the production in London and was very moved by it. In the performance I attended, the main parts were played by Christopher Ventris as Manolios (Christ) and Douglas Nasrawi as Panait (Judas), and since then I have hoped that one day a DVD will be released. In vain, so it seems …

‘Christ was crucified again’

Greek Passion Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis © Universal Edition Magazine

The subject: refugees, corruption, religious fanaticism, humanism and the search for identification was, is and will always remain topical. Bitter, tragic, but also beautiful and very humane. Martinů himself wrote the libretto for it, based on the novel ‘Ο Χριστός ξανασταυρώνεται’ (Christ was crucified again) by Nikos Kazantzakis. The book (and the opera) tells a story of the survivors of a Turkish massacre who seek shelter in a Greek village where the local population is preparing for their annual ‘Passion performances’.

FILM

Greek Passion film

There are two versions of the opera. The original version was rejected by the then management of the Royal Opera House in 1957. The score, which was drastically adapted by Martinů, was not performed until 1961 in Zurich, after the composer’s death. This ‘revision’ was recorded by Supraphon in 1981 and filmed for television in 1999 (Supraphon SU 7014-9).

For the time being, we should be satisfied with that, at least as far as the image is concerned. Not that it’s bad, on the contrary, because there’s a lot to enjoy, but it’s a film and the roles are played by professional actors who really do their best to make us believe that they’re singing too.

The film is strongly reminiscent of Zeffirelli. If you have seen his Cavalleria Rusticana, you know what I mean. There are beautiful images of the arid landscape and the heat and drought are almost palpable.

The soundtrack comes from the recording by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras (need I say more?) with a cast including John Tomlinson as the priest Grigoris, John Mitchinson as Manolios, Helen Field as Katerina and the soloists of the Welsh National Opera.

CD

Greek Pasion Kaftan

Recently, the first, original version of the opera was published on Oehms (OC 967), recorded live in Graz in March 2016. The performance is definitely good. The Swiss tenor Rolf Romei is a very moving Manolios and Dshamilja Kaiser a convincing Katerina. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester is conducted very idiomatically and very appealingly by Dirk Kaftan.


Judging by the pictures in the textbooklet (and the fragments on You Tube) the production was also beautiful to see. Why is this not on DVD?

In Dutch: BOHUSLAV MARTINŮ: The Greek Passion

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Is verismo dead? Part 1: Cavalleria Rusticana

cavalleria-rusticana-mascagni

La Morte de Verismo: Verismo is dead. In recent years, this heartfelt cry has been the subject of intense discussion on opera mailing lists, in opera groups on Facebook and during emotional conversations and discussions among many fans of the genre. But is it true? Is verismo dead?

People say verismo and think: Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Rightly so? Cavalleria Rusticana and certainly Pagliacci are among the most popular operas ever. The most tragic as well. But that is not only because of their content. They are about passion, love, jealousy, revenge and murder, but that and also the rough realism does not make them more violent than Carmen. And we have also experienced ‘ordinary people’ and ‘present time’ in operas before, in La Traviata for example.

No, what actually makes these operas so tragic is the fate of their creators. Both works caused a huge sensation and left their creators with a blockbuster they could never equal again. Not that they composed nothing else or that the quality of their later operas leaves much to be desired. On the contrary. La Bohème by Leoncavallo or L’Amico Fritz by Mascagni, for example, are true masterpieces.

The ‘why’ is difficult to answer, although many explanations have been given. Mascagni would not have remained true to his style and started to compose in the romantic style again. But that is not true: Cavalleria contains many passages that are just as lyrical as L’Amico Fritz, for example,  and Cavalleria is no more dramatic than lets say Iris.

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Pietro Mascagni. Photo courtesy BBC archives

“Crowned before I became king”, Mascagni sarcastically remarked (‘Cavalleria’ was his first opera, composed when he was 26 years old), and that goes for Leoncavallo as well. Whatever the cause may be, both composers have, inseparably linked, gone down in history as composers of only one opera.

The same thing happened to their contemporaries and/or contemporaries of style (they preferred to call themselves ‘La Giovane Scuola’ – ‘The Young School’). The few people who have heard of Giordano, Catalani, Franchetti or Cilea probably cannot name more than one opera. Or even worse: one aria.

It is difficult to say what caused this, and is worth exploring, but the fact is that after the thirties and forties (and also the early fifties) the genre suddenly became ‘not done’. Intellectuals considered the genre as beneath themselves and the sobs in the aria ‘Vesti la giubba’ from Pagliacci became the example of bad taste.

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci have always remained popular with audiences, though. The real lovers have never taken any notice of this intellectual criticism (especially the eighties and nineties of the last century were ruthless for verismo).

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

mascagni

The premiere of Cavalleria Rusticana took place in 1890, three years after Otello and three years before Falstaff by Verdi. The leading roles were sung by Gemma Bellincioni as Santuzza and her husband Roberto Stagno as Turiddu.

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Thanks to Edison and his invention we know how the first Santuzza sounded, because in 1903 Bellincioni recorded ‘Voi lo sapete, o mamma’  (SRO 818-2). What do we hear? Bellincioni has a light soprano, with an easy height, but with a dramatic core. It seems that she had had little success with the then standard repertoire, but her presence, her acting and interpretation made her very suitable for the new operas composed in the verist style.

Bellincioni sings ‘Voi lo sapete o mamma’:

How does a perfect Santuzza sound? You have to have power, that is clear. You also have to be able to act, especially with your voice, because few roles have so much duality in them: her eternal nagging gets on your nerves and you get tired of it, but at the same time she is pitiful and you have sympathy for her. As in real life, and that real life must also be reflected in the interpretation, which cannot be achieved by just singing beautifully.

That’s why the greatest singing actresses have recorded the best Santuzzas. You notice that too when looking at the list of Santuzzas: Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, Zinka Milanov, Carla Gavazzi, Eileen Farrell, Giulietta Simionato, Maria Callas, Elena Souliotis, Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto. And Lina Bruna Rasa of course, the beloved Santuzza of Mascagni.

cavallerie-bruna-rasa-cav

Milan 1940

In 1940 the 50th anniversary of Cavalleria was celebrated with special performances at La Scala, after which the whole cast went into the studio to make a recording of it. The line-up was the best possible, with next to Lina Bruna Rasa, Benjamino Gigli as Turiddu, Gino Becchi as Alfio and Giulietta Simionato as Mamma Lucia (strangely enough Simionato often sang the role of Santuzza afterwards).

cavalleria-1940

The first thing that stands out in Mascagni’s conducting is the emphasis he places on lyricism and a lilting tone , which makes the melodic lines stand out more clearly. On no other recording does the prelude sound so idyllic, and nothing better indicates the drama that is about to take place, which contrasts sharply with the Santuzza – Turiddu duet.  It makes the drama more poignant, more intense.

Gigli was one of the best Turiddu’s in history: seductive and frivolous, and (sorry, but it is true) only in Domingo did he get a worthy competitor. Because neither Giuseppe di Stefano (too light), nor Jussi Björling (too nice), nor Mario del Monaco (too roaring), nor José Carreras (although he comes close) could give Turiddu a hint of three-dimensionality.

Gigli as Turiddu. Recording from 1927:

At the time of the recording Bruna Rasa was 33 years old and since a few years she suffered from terrible depressions. The first symptoms of a mental illness had also manifested themselves and she had trouble remembering the text. Yet there was no question that anyone else would sing that role, and Mascagni helped her as much as he could.

Lina Bruna Raisa sings’ Voi la sapette o mamma’:

The original recording appeared on 2 CDs on EMI which were filled up with arias from other Mascagni operas sung by Gigli. Unfortunately on the re-release on Naxos (8110714-15) some orchestral preludes and intermezzi from different operas, all performed by the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Mascagni are added instead. Both EMI and Naxos start with a short speech by the composer.

Below the complete opera, conducted by the composer:

The Hague 1938

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor animal

Two years earlier, in 1938, the widow of Maurice De Hondt brought Mascagni and his opera to The Hague. The performance of 7 November was recorded live and was released on CD (Bongiovanni BG 1050-2 ).

The live recording sounds pretty good, especially for its age, and the stage sounds (including a very audible prompter) and the coughing audience are not really disturbing. The tempi are a bit faster than on the Naxos recording, but still a little on the slow side.

Cavalleria Bruna Raisa NL

The line-up is slightly less spectacular than two years later, but still very good. Antonio Melandri is a baritone Turiddu and Alfro Poli gives excellent shape to Alfio. Of course Mascagni had brought Bruna Rasa, and what she shows here surpasses everything: so intense, so desperate, so heartbreaking, like no other Santuzza ever sounded. Because of her interpretation alone, this special document is invaluable.

Franco Zefirelli

cavalleria-domingo

This part movie/part studio recording of Franco Zefirelli (DG 0734033) could have been the ultimate adaptation if it had not been for Elena Obraztsova who plays the role of Santuzza. That she is a bit older and unattractive – ok, that fits the story. But her voice is lumpy, sharp and her chest register is painful to the ears. She also suffers from over acting which makes her an extremely unsympathetic Santuzza.

One can’t blame Turiddu (Domingo at his best) for preferring to look at Lola (nice Axelle Gall). Just look at his eyes and his corners of the mouth, which speak volumes! For the rest nothing but praise for this recording, which (how could it be otherwise?) is coupled with ‘Pagliacci’, with again Domingo in top form and an excellently acted Nedda by Teresa Stratas.

In 1956 in the Rai studios one of the most beautiful Cavallerias was recorded, with Carla Gavazzi, Mario Ortica and Giuseppe Valdenga.

This recording can now be found on Youtube:

DOMENICO MONLEONE

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What many people don’t know: there are actually two (and even three if you include La Mala Pasqua by a certain Stanislao Gastaldon from 1888) Cavalleria Rusticana’s. Domenico Monleone (1875 – 1942), a composer not unknown  at the time, also used the story of Giovanni Verga for his one-acter, which his brother Giovanni converted into a libretto.

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Illustration Gamba Pipein. Courtesy Boston Public Library, Music Department

Sonzogno, Mascagni’s publisher, accused Monleone of plagiarism (and indeed: careful study shows that Monleone’s libretto is closer to Mascagni than to Verga’s original story), after which the opera was not performed anywhere for a long time.

Until 1907, when Maurice de Hondt brought Monleone to Amsterdam, where his opera had its belated premiere. Coupled with … yes! Cavalleria Rusticana.

Both works were directed by their composers: it apparently did not bother Mascagni that his colleague had ‘borrowed’ his libretto from him.

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Il Mistero

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Nevertheless, Monleone had to accept the court ruling, which meant that he had to find a new libretto for his music.

It was changed into Il Mistero, another story by Verga, and this time the author himself had helped Giovanni Monleone with the libretto.

Both operas with the same music but on two different libretto’s were released by Myto on CD’s (Cavalleria: 012.H063; Il Mistero: 033.H079). In both works the leading role (Santuzza/Nella) is sung by Lisa Houben, originally from the Netherlands.

Duet Santuzza/Turiddu, sung here by Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni and Janez Lotric. Recording was made in Montpellier, in 2001:

An amusing video: eight times ‘A te la mala Pascua’:

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

In Dutch: IS VERISMO DOOD? Deel 1: Cavalleria Rusticana