Leoncavallo: I Medici

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Leoncavallo
LABELS: DG
WORKS: I Medici
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Carlos Álvarez, Daniela Dessì, Renata Lamanda, Eric Owens; Coro di Voci Bianche della Scuola di Musica di Fiesole; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus & Orchestra/Alberto Veronesi
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7456

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Pagliacci’s huge success in 1892 made Leoncavallo a hot musical property, enabling him to launch a far more ambitious work. I Medici, the first part of a projected trilogy dealing with the great figures of Renaissance Florence, premiered in Milan in 1893, with Francesco Tamagno – Verdi’s first Otello – in the lead role of Giuliano de’ Medici. But the work’s international career petered out after a handful of stagings and its sequels were never written.

In this first recording, the opera’s drawbacks are as apparent as its virtues. Written as an historical epic such as was popular earlier in the 19th century, it has a fine first act in which Giuliano falls in love with the frail Simonetta, and the composer’s lyricism flies free. But as the plot against the Medici gathers momentum and reaches its climax in Giuliano’s assassination in the cathedral, the musical pace slackens and the level of inspiration steadily falls.

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The big ensembles, in particular, have no real sense of direction. Yet it is strongly presented here, with Domingo outstanding as Giuliano, Carlos Álvarez bold and bracing as his brother Lorenzo, and Daniela Dessì’s rich tones and delicacy of delivery creating a fine impression as Simonetta. George Hall