Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Prologue to Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" entreats, "Consider our souls"


Juan Pons as Tonio lip-syncs the Pagliacci Prologue in Unitel's 1982 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Georges Prêtre conducting the La Scala orchestra. (Ignore the other clowns Zeffirelli's inserted, mere distractions.) We even get to see the traveling players arrive in the Calabrian village, with Plácido Domingo as the master of the troupe, Canio, and Teresa Stratas as his wife and costar, Nedda.
If I may? If I may?
Ladies! Gentlemen!
Excuse me if I present myself thus alone.
I am the Prologue.
Because the author is putting
the old-style masks
onstage again.
In part he wants to revive
the old customs, and to you
once again he sends me.

But not to tell you, as before,
"The tears that we shed are false,
by our agonies and our suffering
don't be alarmed."
No! No!
The author has sought
to paint truly for you
a slice of life.
He has for maxim only that the artist is a person,
and that he must write for people,
and draw inspiration from what's true.

A nest of memories in the depths of his soul
sang one day, and with real tears
he wrote, and his sobs beat time for him!

So then, you'll see loving, yes, the way
real human beings love; you'll see hate's
sad fruits, miseries' agonies.
Cries of rage you'll hear, and cynical laughter!

And you, rather than our poor
actors' costumes, consider
our souls, because we are people,
of flesh and bone, and since in this orphan
world, just like you, we breathe the air!

I've told you the concept.
Now hear how it worked out.
Let's go -- begin!

by Ken

Hanging on the grimy wall of my college newspaper office was a yellowed sheet that was the "key" to the 5-point rating system we used for movie reviews. Oh, I pooh-poohed the numerical ratings, on the ground that how can you reduce a sensible evaluation to a number? But the fact was that our readers all too clearly paid more attention to the ratings than to the ever-so-wise reviews.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Preview: Our "Vesti la giubba" recordings are identified, and the aria is put in context


Jussi Bjoerling sings the recitative and aria, with Howard Barlow conducting, from the Voice of Firestone telecast of Nov. 19, 1951.

by Ken

First, let's finish last night's unfinished business. Here again are our seven recordings of "Vesti la giubba," now properly identified. You'll notice that the singers are in alphabetical order.
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, " Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio . . . Vesti la giubba"

[English translation by Peggie Cochrane]

Recitative
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!
Aria
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!
Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.
A

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; RCA Victor Orchestra, Renato Cellini, cond. RCA/EMI, recorded January 1953
B

Franco Corelli, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Apr. 11, 1964
C

Mario del Monaco, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. Live performance, Jan. 3, 1959
D

Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 12-17, 1954
E

Plácido Domingo, tenor; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond. Live performance, Nov. 5, 1976
F

Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, cond. Philips, live performance, February 1992
G

[aria only] Lawrence Tibbett, baritone; orchestra, Alfred Newman, cond. Delos (Stanford Archive Series), recorded for the soundtrack of Metropolitan, 1935

The oddity is that our final Canio is not a tenor but a baritone, perhaps the finest America has produced, Lawrence Tibbett. (Okay, it's transposed down a tone, and yes, that would have been a correct answer to the question of what's odd about one of our recordings. But still . . . ) Tomorrow we're going to hear him back in his proper range, singing the Prologue to Pagliacci. Note that among our tenor Canios we've heard a not-quite-even split between lyric (Bjoerling, di Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti) and dramatic (Corelli, del Monaco) tenors, and while "Vesti la giubba" is probably the part of the role most accessible to lyric tenors, I think you'll still hear a marked difference in the kind of effect the different voice types make in the music.
BONUS: NOW WE ARE GOING TO HEAR CARUSO

Last night I teased you with a photo of the label of Victor 88061, Enrico Caruso's third (I think) recording of "Vesti la giubba" (famous, by the way, as the first record to sell a million copies), with the news that no, we weren't going to hear it. Well, now we are. (Confession: I didn't realize I had it on CD.)


Enrico Caruso, tenor. Victor, recorded March 17, 1907


Here Giuseppe di Stefano sings just the aria.


NOW WHY DON'T WE HEAR THE ARIA IN ITS PROPER CONTEXT?

Although Pagliacci is normally thought of as a one-act opera -- usually in combination with Pietro Mascagni's one-act Cavalleria rusticana -- it's technically in two acts, separated by an intermezzo (just as Cavalleria is in two scenes separated by the famous Intermezzo). The scene that culminates in "Vesti la giubba" brings Act I to a pretty theatrical close, and since the opera is virtually always performed in one act, it's followed immediately by the Intermezzo sinfonico (technically really an entr'acte), so why don't we hear that as well? We're going to hear it again tomorrow, when it will make more musical sense after we've spent some time with the Prologue, which contributes important music to it. Our final Canio today, the Russian Vladimir Atlantov, is another specimen of the full-weight dramatic tenor.

LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, Scene 4; Intermezzo sinfonico
A little troupe of traveling players, having only recently arrived in this Calabrian village, has a show to put on, "a ventitre ore," as Canio, the volatile boss of the troupe has put it so invitingly to the villagers -- "at 23 hours," or 11pm. Canio accepted an invitation from the villagers for a pre-show libation, and was joined by Beppe but not the hunchback Tonio, who claimed he had to groom the donkey and stayed behind with Canio's wife, the troupe's diva, the extremely unhappy Nedda. Leaving the donkey to fend for itself, Tonio made profoundly unwelcome overtures to Nedda, which she not only rejected but ridiculed, finally driving him off with a whip. Nedda was then joined by a man with whom, in a tender and passionate scene, she agreed to run off after the show, at midnight. Unfortunately Tonio saw them and to get revenge on Nedda has quietly brought Canio back to the scene.

TONIO [to CANIO]: Tread softly and you'll catch them!
SILVIO [climbing over the wall, to NEDDA]: I'll be waiting there at midnight. Clamber down cautiously and you'll find me.
NEDDA [to SILVIO]: Till tonight, and I'll be yours forever. CANIO [overhearing these words]: Ha!
NEDDA [shouting in Silvio's wake, as she becomes aware of CANIO's presence]: Fly!
[CANIO rushes to the wall. NEDDA goes to bar his way but, shoving her aside, he vaults over.]
NEDDA: Help him, Lord!
CANIO's voice offstage: Coward! You're hiding!
TONIO [laughing cynically]: Ha ha ha!
NEDDA [to TONIO]: Bravo! Bravo, my Tonio!
TONIO: I do what I can.
NEDDA: That's what I thought.
TONIO: But I don't despair of doing a great deal better!
NEDDA: You revolt and disgust me!
TONIO: Oh, you don't know how happy I am about it! Ha ha ha!
CANIO [clambering back across the wall]: Derision and scorn! Nothing! He knows that path well. No matter -- [furiously, to NEDDA]: since you're going to tell me your lover's name now!
NEDDA: Who?
CANIO: You, by our eternal Father! [Drawing his knife] And if I haven't cut your throat before this it's because, before I soil this blade with your stinking blood, you shameless woman, I want his name! Speak!
NEDDA: Insults won't do any good. My lips are sealed.
CANIO: His name, his name, don't delay, woman!
NEDDA: No!
[At this point BEPPE comes hurrying onto the scene.] No! I'll never tell it!
CANIO [rushing at NEDDA, knife upraised]: By Our Lady!
BEPPE [seizing him, as he rushes at NEDDA, wrestling the knife away from him and flinging it away]: Boss! What are you doing? For the love of God! People are coming out of church and coming here for the show. Let's go . . . come along. Calm yourself!
CANIO: Let me go, Beppe! His name! His name!
BEPPE [calling to TONIO]: Tonio, come and hold him!
CANIO: His name!
BEPPE: Let's go, the public is arriving! You'll talk things over later! [To NEDDA] And you, come away from there. Go and get dressed. [As he pushes her inside and goes in with her] You know, Canio is violent but good-hearted.
CANIO: Disgrace! Disgrace!
TONIO [softly, to CANIO]: Calm yourself, boss. It's better to dissemble; the gallant'll return. Rely on me! I'll keep a watch on her. Now let's give the performance. Who knows but he won't come to the show and give himself away. Come now. One must dissemble, in order to succeed!
BEPPE [coming from the stage]: Let's go, come on, get dressed, boss. [Turning to TONIO] And you beat the drum, Tonio.
[Both go off, leaving CANIO alone.]
CANIO: [Recitative]
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!
[Aria]
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!
Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.

Bernd Weikl (b), Tonio; Wolfgang Brendel (b), Silvio; Lucia Popp (s), Nedda; Vladimir Atlantov (t), Canio; Alexandru Ionita (t), Beppe; Munich Radio Orchestra, Lamberto Gardelli, cond. Eurodisc, recorded December 1983

Tito Gobbi (b), Tonio; Mario Zanasi (b), Silvio; Lucine Amara (s), Nedda; Franco Corelli (t), Canio; Mario Spina (t), Beppe; Orchestra of the Teatro all Scala, Lovro von Matačić, cond. EMI, recorded 1961


TOMORROW: The Prologue to Pagliacci begs us, "Consider our souls."
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Preview: What's odd about one of these "Vesti la giubba" performances?

And while we're at it, you might
as well name the singers


No, we're not hearing Caruso sing "Vesti la giubba."

by Ken

One of these performances of Vesti la giubba (from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci) has something distinctly unusual about it. (No, I don't mean that one that doesn't include the prececding "Recitar!" recitative.)

I can't identify the singers for you, for reasons that will become obvious in tomorrow night's preview when we do identify all the recordings. But these are seven of the most recognizable voices since . . . well, since they began recording voices. And so, as I said, while we're at it, you might as well identify them, just to get that out of the way
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, " Recitar!
Mentre preso dal delirio . . . Vesti la giubba
"

[English translation by Peggie Cochrane]

Recitative
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!

Aria
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!

Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.
A

B

C

D

E

F

G [aria only]



SATURDAY NIGHT: The "Vesti la guibba" recordings are identified, and supplemented with a special bonus performance, and the aria is put in its dramatic context.

SUNDAY: The Prologue to Pagliacci begs us, "Consider our souls."
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