Leoncavallo: Pagliacci
Chailly/Royal Concertgebouw
Decca 467-086-2 (73’05)

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There are already many superb recordings of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci*available. This new recording, made at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, in Sept. 1999, is one of the best in decades, but overall belongs to the second rank of Pagliacci CD recordings.

Argentine tenor José Cura (Canio) is the bankable star of this opera, its commercial and artistic raison d’ętre. In the history of opera, there have been singers and actors and, more rarely, singing actors. Pure singers like Tucker, Bjoerling, and many sopranos, were useless actors. Recordings convey the better part of their gifts. Cura must be counted among the singing actors like Jon Vickers and Bryn Terfel, who have to be seen live to be fully appreciated. On recordings, Cura loses much of this charisma. His basic sound is large and sweet, though the louder and higher he sings, the more elemental and hormonal he sounds. In scenes of rage and joy, Cura can bellow. His Canio is a mixed bag, a blend of Italianate lyricism and Germanic bullishness, of intense engagement and phoned-in routine. His “Un tal gioco” is not as threatening as it was when Vickers sang it, and not as lovely as when certain great Italian tenors of the sixties sang it. His “Vesti la giubba” is perfunctory and unaffecting. Cura doesn’t have easy high Cs, but on this recording he rockets up to such a high ringing “A ventitre ore” that one suspects electronic enhancement.

Barbara Frittoli’s Nedda is not bad but not exceptional. Frittoli made a few good recordings in the nineties but her voice has coarsened recently. Her basic singing lacks charm and grace. She has a dramatic, pushy spinto sound that is ill-assorted to roles requiring girlish charm. Some of her middle voice is weakly supported and her high notes are acid. Her “Tutto scordiam” is ashy sounding. Her “Stridono lassů” lacks joy. Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez (Tonio) has good musical instincts, dramatic pacing, and confident delivery. He incarnates the ugly clown with ardent conviction. The voice is rich, masculine, and moving, but sounds older than his 35 years, which keeps him from the very top class of Tonios. The Concertgebouw plays very well indeed, setting the mood with Wagnerian rumblings and Berliozian storm scenes (I.IV). Nedda’s duet with Silvio (Brit baritone Simon Keenlyside) (I.III) floats on a cushion of deliciously romantic orchestral sound. The Netherlands Radio Choir and the national children’s choir sound authentic. Notes and libretto in English, French and German; libretto also in Italian. No artist biographies. Philip Anson

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1 Prologo: Intro - Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Riccardo Chailly Listen / écouter
2 Prologo: Si Puo? Si Puo? - Carlos Alvarez Listen / écouter

Atto Primo, Scena 1: Son Qua! Ritornano... - Adrian Folea/Gert-Jan Alders

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4 Atto Primo, Scena 1: Un Grande Spettacolo A Ventitre Ore - Jose Cura Listen / écouter
5 Atto Primo, Scena1: Un Tal Gioco, Credetemi - Jose Cura Listen / écouter

Published in Vol. 6 No. 8 of La Scena Musicale
Publié dans le Vol. 6 No. 8 dans La Scena Musicale
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