Cavalleria Rusticana: Farrell, Miller, Chookasian; Tucker, Bardelli. Pagliacci: Amara; Corelli, Colzani, Ghitti, Marsh; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Santi. Notes; no libretto or translation. Sony Classical 8691-90999-2 (2)
Even in that comparatively glittering period, anyone present at this performance at the Old Met in April 1964 must have felt unusually lucky. Its Cav and Pag double bill listed two formidable tenors — Franco Corelli and Richard Tucker, spectacular singers in their own right who seemed to energize their colleagues. The effect was often palpable in the house, and it sparks this matinée broadcast recording from the company archive.
The Rudolf Bing era boasted a remarkable roster of singers, of course, and — in comparison with today's global Met — what seems a profusion of Italian voices. That unique flavor, allied with the aforementioned intensity, is especially strong in the Pagliacci. Listen to quintessential Italian baritone Anselmo Colzani (1918–2006), theTonio, a singer not especially remembered today. He rolls out an ardent, virile prologue and crowns it with an A-flat that resonates with particular potency in current undernourished ears. This follows an unusually peppy, well-played orchestral intro led by a non-singing Italian, Nello Santi (b. 1931), then in the first phase of his thirty-year Met conducting career.
Their compatriots include an unfamiliar name, Franco Ghitti, in the brief but important role of Beppe. The tenor had just this one Met season before he vanished into a teaching career in Italy. Here, one seems to hear a star in a cameo performance, with an electric vibrato and forceful phrasing.
And of course Corelli (1921–2003), whom we might prefer in his more accustomed role of Turiddu, is also a Canio of note — although this was his last year singing it in New York. The character sounds doomed from the first bars. His voice, as if torn from him, is pained and menacing, hell-bent, just awaiting provocation. Don't look for momentary relief in the form of a "scherzoso" (joking) delivery, as indicated early in the score during the character's "Un tal gioco." Such lightness is just not in the Corelli arsenal. But his "Vesti la giubba" offers more than hysterics; controlled legato phrases serve as a foil for the big outbursts, and he keeps building throughout the opera.
Rising to the occasion, Lucine Amara (b. 1924) makes a desperate minx of Nedda, attacking her high lines with zing and sporting a competent trill. Calvin Marsh (b. 1921), as Silvio, sounds like a confident Rigoletto on holiday — a baritone of style and consequence. Why he spent his 900-performance Met career as a comprimario remains a mystery.
Cavalleria, the curtain-raiser, is slower to ignite. Santi starts off a bit casual, somewhat selective toward Mascagni's markings, and Richard Tucker (1913–75) — wound up tight, like Corelli, from the beginning — disregards the score's request for an echo effect in his punchy offstage serenade. Eileen Farrell (1920–2002), the Santuzza, suggests at first a lieder artist doing some slumming and is a little thin in the important middle register. Lili Chookasian's (1921–2012) big contralto somehow yields a wan Mamma Lucia; we hear too little of the jaundiced Latin widow — in short, too little Fellini. Lola (Mildred Miller) and Alfio (Cesare Bardelli) are fine, if a little undersized.
Things start to click with the Turiddu–Santuzza confrontation, even though neither of the singers is quite in peak form. A veteran in the role by this point, Tucker has range to match his vitality: phony-polite in the brief encounter with Lola (as if urging caution); suggesting the spoiled mama's boy, manipulative and then cruel toward Santuzza; desperately mercurial, trying everything, opposite Alfio. Farrell soars grandly above the staff and hurls out her curse in a chilling, almost alarming high chest voice; her diction is expert in the scene with Alfio, especially a snide "tua moglie" (your wife) in a near-whisper. After some extremes in his conducting — braking almost with a jerk for each of Santuzza's replies to Turiddu — Santi shapes the intermezzo gracefully and a bit gently and has the orchestra tightly focused. The conductor whips up sizzling effects for the farewell to Mamma Lucia, a perfect complement to Tucker's shattering enactment of this critical scene.
DAVID J. BAKER