Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana (Original Version) (1890)
Santuzza, Carolina López Moreno (soprano); Turridu, Giorgio Berrugi (tenor); Alfio, Domen Križaj (baritone); Mamma Lucia, Elisabetta Fiorillo (mezzo-soprano); Lola, Eva Zaïcik (mezzo-soprano)
Balthasar Neumann Choir
Balthasar Neumann Orchestra/Thomas Hengelbrock
rec. 2022, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany.
Prospero PROSP0088 
Operadis.com lists 123 recordings of Cavalleria made live, in the studio, and for film, yet here, for the first time, we have Mascagni’s original conception, without cuts and various transpositions made to accommodate the original cast and chorus. You get an extra verse of Alfio’s aria, some climactic music for the chorus in the drinking song, and various bits and pieces of connective material. It’s certainly interesting to hear, although some restored cuts pass by without much notice. Those not particularly familiar with the score would probably find differences minimal, even though, as the booklet states, roughly 11% of the opera’s music was cut and is here reinstated.
When making these cuts, and especially the transpositions, Mascagni was often acting out of the necessity to procure solid vocalism from his cast of soloists. Mascagni understood, like any good composer, that the performance hinges on more than just the written notes. If members of the cast felt that their vocalism would suffer in a higher tessitura, making transpositions was important in getting the very best results. It is unfortunate then that, despite the reinstated cuts and eliminated transpositions, the poor vocalism of this set mitigates its impact. Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least ten recordings of this opera which better represent the composers dramatic intentions. I suspect if I were to listen to the whole 123 record strong discography, I would find many, many more too.
The soprano singing Santuzza, Carolina López Moreno, has the better voice of the main cast members. But compared to others who have recorded the role, Lina Bruna Rasa (Naxos Historical 8.110714-15), Maria Callas (Warner Classics 2564634090), Giulietta Simionato (Decca 4500162), Fiorenza Cossotto (DG 457 764-2) and more, her performance is both dramatically and vocally compromised. She has little-to-no chest integration, pulling her head voice down into a collapsed, hollow sound to cover the break in the passagio. There are hints of ingolata (artificial darkening of the tone) and the head voice is not covered with proper girare (lifting of the soft palate) meaning that the voice cannot bloom and often loses clarity. She cannot play with her registers to dramatic effect like Lina Bruna Rasa, nor can she colour the text like Callas or summon the vocal beauty and strength of Simionato.
Giorgio Berrugi tries to sing dramatically as Turridu but is laboured, wobbly, and dry of tone. Again, the upper register is not properly covered, there is a lot of excess vocal tension and the results, though obviously intended to be dramatic, sound unconvincing and ugly. On other sets, Beniamino Gigli (Naxos Historical) presents a more elegant Turridu who also has the temperament and piercing tone to do justice to the role. Mario Del Monaco (Decca) is an impressively Stentorian and bullish Turridu and Franco Corelli (MYTO 1MCD031.274) an excitingly masculine one. Countless others including Bergonzi, Melandri, Tucker, Braschi and Di Stefano acquit themselves far better.
The Alfio of Domen Križaj is just as poor. He doesn’t sound imposing in the slightest, his voice is hollow, breathy, and lacks core. In fairness, he is marginally fresher in his earlier scene, but the upper register is forced and constricted. The voice has none of the penetration nor fullness of baritones such as Gino Bechi (Naxos Historical), Giangiacomo Guelfi (MYTO) or Giuseppe Taddei (DG). These singers make something sinister and exciting of the role but sadly, here, it falls totally flat and nowhere more so than in the ideally thrilling duet between Alfio and Santuzza.
Worse still is the Mamma Lucia of Elisabetta Fiorillo which is an unfortunate mess of wobbles and Eva Zaïcik not much better as Lola. The conducting and choral singing is all a bit restrained and light-weight, though at least there is some musicality here. I would still prefer the more red-blooded ensemble work that you find in any of the above-mentioned performances. Sadly, the audio engineering is the finest thing about this recording and with others in perfectly acceptable sound, this is far out of the running. For those looking for a great stereo account then try Serafin with Simionato, Del Monaco and MacNeil on Decca or if you want something more sumptuous but less Italianate conducting-wise there is Karajan with Cossotto, Bergonzi and Taddei on DG. Those not so concerned with sonic limitations will find high drama in Mascagni’s own recording with Bruna Rasa, Gigli and Bechi on Naxos Historical. Or a live performance from La Scala under Gavazzeni featuring Simionato, Corelli and Guelfi available on MYTO or Opera d’Oro OPD1448.
This recording is nice to have for purely scholarly purposes if you’re so enamoured by late nineteenth century verismo works, but as a dramatic performance it doesn’t ever get off the ground. I’m glad someone took the time to prepare a performing edition closer to the composer’s original intentions and I’m well aware of the current difficulties in properly casting almost any opera composed before the 1950s. Still, it seems as though all of Mascagni’s efforts in adapting his opera to create a credible and dramatic stage drama go down the drain when performers do not utilise the technique and idiom that he would have expected from his performers.
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