Verismo

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Catalani,Cilea,Giordano,Leoncavallo,Mascagni & Zandonai,Puccini
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Arias by Puccini, Catalani, Cilea, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Mascagni & Zandonai
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming (soprano); Giuseppe Verdi Chorus & SO, Milan/Marco Armiliato
CATALOGUE NO: 478 1533

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Verismo, the style that invigorated Italian opera a century ago, means roughly ‘realism’ or ‘true to life’, tapping everyday stories rather than myth or history – relatively, since it’s often wildly melodramatic.

At its best, though, verismo’s emotional immediacy is a gift to a performer like Renée Fleming, her voice combining luscious tone and intensity. She sounds increasingly more natural, however, playing mature heroines such as Magda rather than pure ingénues like Iris, as her choice of arias here suggests.

It’s an imaginative programme; many are pretty recherché choices, such as Cilea and Zandonai, Giordano’s Siberia and Mascagni’s Lodoletta, and the rest thoughtfully picked – Wally’s later aria rather than ‘Ebben, ne andro lontana’; Puccini’s Bohème tellingly sandwiched with Leoncavallo’s lighter, more operetta-like version.

Fleming delivers an electrifying Manon aria in its original manuscript form. Among accompanying singers, Heldentenor Jonas Kaufmann is luxury casting for the excellent La rondine excerpts.

Verismo, though, does thrive on vocal heart-wrenching rather than flawless beauty, one reason Maria Callas, edgy and risk-taking, was a greater exponent than Renata Tebaldi. Fleming falls somewhere between the two, rich in feeling but with a background sense of diva-style poise and calculation – a quality many prefer.

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Essential for Fleming fans, therefore, and deeply impressive for anyone who enjoys this repertoire. Michael Scott Rohan