Leoncavallo: Pagliacci

COMPOSERS: Leoncavallo
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Leoncavallo
WORKS: Pagliacci
PERFORMER: Andrea Bocelli, Ana María Martínez, Stefano Antonucci, Francesco Piccoli, Roberto Accurso; Coro di voci bianche ‘Gaudeamus igitur; ConcerntusOrchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania/Steven Mercurio
CATALOGUE NO: 475 7753
Packaged here separately, Mascagni’s and Leoncavallo’s operas regularly turn up together, and most of the great Latin tenors of the last 50 years or more have recorded both. That is the problem any new versions face – an awful lot of competition, some of it distinguished.

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In Cavalleria, Andrea Bocelli’s Turiddu simply doesn’t measure up. His tone is monochrome, he’s occasionally a shade flat, while his vocalism is insensitive. The rest of the cast appear to have been chosen so as not to embarrass him, with the exception of Enkelejda Shkosa’s spirited and stylish Lola. But nobody buys Cavalleria rusticana for the Lola. Paoletta Marrocu’s Santuzza lacks vocal variety and temperament, with many crucial text lines passing her by. Stefano Antonucci’s Alfio is rough but often ready. The orchestra and chorus reach a good standard, though the village organist fumbles one chord in the intro to the Easter Hymn: maybe that’s a genuine verismo touch. There’s little sense of theatrical pace in Steven Mercurio’s blowsy conducting, and the acoustic is peculiarly swimmy.

Fortunately, the rather more sophisticated Pagliacci receives a better performance all round. The sound is much more natural. There’s a nice Beppe from Francesco Piccolo, and a perfectly good Silvio from Roberto Accurso. Antonucci’s Tonio is ordinary – no bite – and while Ana María Martínez’s Nedda is absolutely respectable from a vocal point of view, that’s almost the problem: there’s no sense of the harder side of the character.

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Bocelli himself manages a stronger performance as Canio; there’s more engagement at a dramatic level, and he’s more consistent vocally. But that still doesn’t put him anywhere near the top of the league. Steven Mercurio’s conducting is a shade more on the ball than for Cavalleria, but again he’s no match for the Serafins, Karajans, Mutis and others who know how to sock it over the footlights. One leading contender for top ranking remains Muti’s 1979 set of both operas, with Carreras in the tenor roles and strong personalities like Montserrat Caballé (Santuzza) and Renata Scotto (Nedda) to either side. George Hall