Leoncavallo: James McCracken, Pilar Lorengar, Robert Merrill, Ugo Benelli, Tom Krause

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COMPOSERS: Leoncavallo
LABELS: Karussell
WORKS: James McCracken, Pilar Lorengar, Robert Merrill, Ugo Benelli, Tom Krause
PERFORMER: Chorus & Orchestra of the Academy of St Cecilia, Rome/Lamberto Gardelli
CATALOGUE NO: 461 141-2 ADD (Reissue)
Both these recordings date from the Sixties, and both are worth consideration primarily because of their leading tenors. On DG, Karajan’s Canio is Carlo Bergonzi, who brings to verismo something of the elegance of bel canto, without in any way lessening the dramatic tension. His is a beautifully judged and immaculately sung performance. Joan Carlyle’s Nedda is not in this class, but Giuseppe Taddei is a convincing Tonio, and the La Scala orchestra plays magnificently for Karajan, whose tempi, however, are inclined towards the stately.

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Much brisker is Lamberto Gardelli’s taut, dramatic conducting on Decca. Pilar Lorengar is a somewhat unsteady Nedda, but Robert Merrill is at his very impressive best as Tonio. Some may find James McCracken’s Canio over-emotional and vocally ill-disciplined, but those who were fortunate enough to see him play the role on stage will cherish this memento of his moving characterisation. (The best Pagliacci of all on CD is still that conducted by Tullio Serafin on EMI.) Charles Osborne