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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci'
Artist - Pietro Mascagni / Ruggero Leoncavallo

For those not in the classical know, Pietro Mascagni was an Italian composer most noted for his operas. His 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music.

While it was often held that Mascagni, like Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera man" who could never repeat his first success, L'amico Fritz and Iris have remained in the repertoire in Europe (especially Italy) since their premieres. Mascagni said that at one point, Iris was performed in Italy more often than Cavalleria (cf. Stivender).

Indeed, Mascagni wrote fifteen operas, an operetta, several orchestral and vocal works, and also songs and piano music. He enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, both as a composer and conductor of his own and other people's music.

He created a variety of styles in his operas: a Sicilian passion and warmth of Cavalleria, the exotic flavor of Iris, the idylls of L'amico Fritz and Lodoletta, the Gallic chiaroscuro of Isabeau, the steely, Veristic power of Il piccolo Marat and the over-ripe post-romanticism of the lush Parisina.

As for Ruggero Leoncavallo, he was was also an Italian opera composer and librettist. Although he produced numerous operas and other songs throughout his career it is his opera Pagliacci (1892) that remained his lasting contribution, despite attempts to escape the shadow of his greatest success.

Today he remains largely known for Pagliacci, one of the most popular works in the repertory, appearing as number 20 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide in the 2013/14 season. His other well-known works include the song "Mattinata", popularized by Enrico Caruso, as well as the symphonic poem La nuit de mai.

Released May 25th, 2018 via Deutsche Grammophon, Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana/Leoncavallo: Pagliacci is out now as a brilliant, and rather lush 2CD + Blu-ray Audio Disc Deluxe Hardback Edition presenting Herbert von Karajanís glorious 1965 double-feature of Mascagniís Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavalloís Pagliacci.

CD 1:
1. Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana

CD 2:
1. Leoncavallo: Pagliacci

1. Bu-ray Audio Disc

Featuring the Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Fiorenza Cossotto (Cavalleria) and Giuseppe Taddei and Rolando Panerai (Pagliacci), it is inclusive of both casts featuring the great Carlo Bergonzi in lead roles.

In truth, and as I think we all can testify to, Deutsche Grammophon has always been known for state of the art classical music recordings, and this is no exception. This 2CD + Blu-ray Audio Disc performance led by Herbert Von Karajan is one of, if not the best performances of this work I've heard in quite some time.

I think the story of this famous opera needs no telling. It is very accessible and very exciting and it's short. All in all, a brilliant package.

The singers, however, are paired with one of my favorite conductors of all time. Herbert von Karajan has been criticized for making his music "too beautiful". Well, for me there can be no such thing.

His conducting here is typically sensitive and his devotion to the singers was just pure genius. The chorus is excellent and their hymn with Santuzza goes the full way in making the audience sympathetic to the circumstances leading to her drastic actions.

So we come to Santuzza. Fiorenza Cossotto is one of those singers who give it her all. You hear it in her voice. She can rise, soar and float her notes like a warm current as well as stop your world with her chest register.

Naturally, she excels in both mezzo and soprano roles. Not to eclipse her esteemed art, I would concur that she is every bit as astounding as the great Simionato.

And Bergonzi has always been a reliable tenor for me and while I can't claim that he was particularly astonishing, he was amazing nonetheless. His Turridu is faultless. Once again, Bergonzi gives a wholly Italian and aesthetically appealing performance. Nowhere is this more apparent than the cavatina at the beginning.

Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is widely regarded as the best stereophonic Pagliacci - and many would say the best, period. Its virtues are primarily musical: Carlo Bergonzi usually sang with a level of good taste not common in tenors this side of Sir Peter Pears, and you might expect that to limit the voltage he generates as the insanely jealous, knife-wielding Canio, particularly with the well-groomed Karajan on the podium.

But he gets into the character, and Karajan gets into the music's passion and the story's gritty atmosphere. It may be that the conductor caught some excitement from the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, which are ideal for this music. The two baritones are excellent, and Joan Carlyle's performance makes you wonder why she made so few recordings.

The orchestra plays it well and follows Karajan perfectly, but, and being an OCD perfectionist, I (think I) noticed just one entrance in the first measure of the intermezzo where the strings are not completely together.

There is one cut in act I, but it is a traditional one. If I am correct, I think it is in the prologue that an empty measure has been eliminated. Maybe I'm wrong, but you can decide for yourself when you purchase this incredible new package.

Regardless, to me this is a perfect performance of Pagliacci. Von Karajan's tempi are on frame and his phrasing with the orchestra is exquisite. When I first heard Taddei's Tonio I didn't much care for it, but the more I listen the more I have grown to like it.

Taddei delivers, what I consider, a very Gobbi like performance, which I feel is truer to the realization of this character than, say a Warren, Milnes, or MacNeil. Joan Carlyle is a very fine Nedda, though not in the same league as de Los Angeles or Callas, but very compelling nonetheless.

Rolando Panerai sings very well, if not a bit too robust, in the lyric baritone role of Silvio (my favorite is still Robert Merrill in the Cellini/Bjoerling/De Los Angeles recording).

Also, this recording not only possesses the great Tenor voice of Carlo Bergonzi, but also the equally wonderful lyric Tenor voice of Ugo Bennelli in the role of Beppe/Arlequino, who sings the role with a beauty and ease unequaled by any other Tenor, on any other recording.

This great new package also includes an essay on Cavalleria Rusticana by Bernhard Uske; on Pagliacci by Angelo Foletto; and a note by Recording Producer, Hans Weber.

Official 2CD + Blu-ray Audio Disc Purchase Link