Leoncavallo: Pagliacci

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Leoncavallo
WORKS: Pagliacci
PERFORMER: José Cura, Barbara Frittoli, Carlos Álvarez, Simon Keenlyside, Charles Castronovo; Netherlands Radio Choir, National Children’s Chorus, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 467 086-2
The Argentinian star tenor José Cura excels in high-testosterone tenor roles and there is certainly a raw physical excitement in the way he launches himself fearlessly into the role of Canio. The top of the voice sounds almost obscenely healthy. However, he goes at full tilt so much of the time that the result is a little wearing. By comparison, Carlo Bergonzi on the Karajan set, with less heft than Cura, saves what he has for the big moments and brings more finesse and insight to the rest of the part. Compare Cura’s high-voltage ‘Vesti la giubba’ with Bergonzi who starts the aria much quieter, as marked, and then has somewhere to go with it. Also Bergonzi’s much more open diction helps register subtle nuances of characterisation so that when he pulls back for ‘Tu sei Pagliaccio!’ you see the glint in his eye and you know this man is going to kill someone by the end of the evening. Where this set scores over the Karajan is in the wonderfully dark and sultry Nedda of Barbara Frittoli, who has far more Italianate colour in the voice than Joan Carlyle. The Tonio of Carlos Álvarez is no match for Karajan’s Giuseppe Taddei but Simon Keenlyside is suavely seductive as Silvio and his scene with Frittoli is the highlight of this recording. Chailly brings out the many subtleties of colour and orchestration in the score without ever letting it sag. However, when the chips are down, I’d still go for the Karajan, especially at mid-price. Clive Portbury