Guglielmo Ratcliff by Mascagni performed by the Wexford Festival Opera

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COMPOSERS: Mascagni
LABELS: RTE Lyric
ALBUM TITLE: Mascagni
WORKS: Guglielmo Ratcliff
PERFORMER: Angelo Villari, Mariangela Sicilia, David Stout, Annunziata Vestri, Gianluca Buratto, Alexandros Tsilogiannis, Quentin Hayes, Sarah Richmond; Wexford Festival Opera/Francesco Cilluffo
CATALOGUE NO: FM CD152

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Mascagni’s neglected 1895 opera Guglielmo Ratcliff was the hit of the 2015 Wexford Festival. This live recording from that event makes a strong case for its occasional revival; only one or two episodes of stage noise get the in the way of complete sonic enjoyment.

Based on a Gothic melodrama by Heine, Guglielmo Ratcliff is the work that the composer, eternally remembered for Cavalleria rusticana, continued to regard as one of his finest achievements. Set in Scotland around 1820, the tragedy presents the psychopathic Ratcliff as having killed before curtain up two previous suitors of his beloved Maria MacGregor; then, failing to kill the third, the disturbed anti-hero makes up for it by killing Maria, her father and himself in the final bloodbath. If the plot is over the top in a Romantic-horror kind of way, Mascagni’s music – largely composed in a freewheeling arioso style, and featuring powerful vocal and orchestral writing including a moving intermezzo – compels the listener to take it seriously.

The cast attacks some tremendously difficult roles with assurance, notably the bold and brave tenor Angelo Villari, who hurls himself at Guglielmo, with Mariangela Sicilia an intense Maria and Annunziata Vestri haunting as the MacGregors’ crazed retainer Margherita. Francesco Cilluffo energises Wexford’s choral and orchestral forces.

There are quite a few cuts, however, which make the arduous title role more manageable than it otherwise would be. But the English text contained in the booklet derives from the edited-down surtitles used at Wexford, and doesn’t always accord with either the printed Italian text or what is sung.

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George Hall