The Flying Inkpot — I Pagliacci – Quartararo, Vinay and Bjorling, de los Angeles, GUILD/NAXOS
| Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO
|Verismo opera incites passionate, sometimes violent loyalties in its devotees, and Pagliacci is no different. Here we have two different recordings, one well-known to collectors and a studio recording, the other an important new addition to the discography of the work and a broadcast of a live performance. They could not be more different. Even Leonard Warren, the one unchanged member of the cast, sounds and acts totally differently, displaying another side of the despised Tonio.
The Scandinavian Jussi Bjrling and the Chilean Ramon Vinay (left) were both very great tenors, the first recorded much more than the latter. Bjrling’s is a straight reading of Canio and his famous ease of access to the top registers of his voice doesn’t fail to impress, but Vinay’s baritonal voice, as the notes say, was particularly well-suited to the expression of jealousy (he was particularly impressive as Otello), or rather, his temperament was especially well-suited to acting jealous characters. Bjrling’s interpretation is a masterclass in singing; Vinay’s is a performance.
The anger and emotions pour from him like a lava from a volcano, and you do get the impression that he had lost all control by the end of Act II. In “Vesti la giubba” Vinay is a towering mess of emotion that makes you believe that his crimes in Act II were truly crimes of passion – a masterly performance that has the audience in raptures. Bjrling (right) ‘s performance is less convincing. Neither resorts to the kind of sobbing that DiStephano did in his famous performance with Callas and Serafin, which I always found rather affected.
Vinay’s Nedda is the beautiful Florence Quartararo, a lyric soprano who was sadly underrepresented due to her early retirement after giving birth to her first child. She sang at the Metropolitan Opera for only a few years, but during that period managed to catch the ear of no less than Toscanini, who wanted her to be his Desdemona (it never worked out due to Met restrictions.) Her performance of Nedda is a fiery, temperamental one, not a vixen the way Callas could be, but still you feel the sense that she wants to be free. There is something extremely inflammatory about her Nedda though, which is not very attractive, but which adds another dimension to the role.
Bjrling’s Nedda is his Mimi in La Boheme, the equally beautiful Victoria de los Angeles. Bjrling and de los Angeles make good foils against each other — they are both accomplished singers and have clear, lovely voices, something that perhaps works to their disadvantage in playing such unlovely characters. Victoria de los Angeles’ Nedda is distinguished, Quartararo’s is human.
In the Naxos version Leonard Warren’s malice is less overt; with Antonicelli he sneers, leers and is on the whole more over-the-top; in the Act II Scene 2 Play he is positively detestable. On the whole I find the over-the-top-ness enjoyable and not at all distracting.
Renato Cellini’s performance is staid as compared with Antonicelli’s, and indeed the latter acquits himself admirably with his soloists. He actually takes about the same time, but his performance seems to take so much less time, in fact it’s over in a twinkle of an eye. The orchestra is sensitive and responsive, veterans as they are.
Comparing both performances then, I’d say that I prefer the rough-and-ready performance of Vinay and Quartararo compared with Bjrling and de los Angeles, though the latter is without not its merits, namely the gorgeous singing from the principals (you won’t hear it sung better) Others will have had this in their collection for a long time in the EMI release; be assured that this transfer by Mark Obert-Thorne is miles ahead of the EMI which was distorted in many places, truly a labour of love. You will want to replace your copy.
The 1948 broadcast quality can’t compare with the 1953, and those who don’t like audience noise may find it distracting. To me it adds to the tension and occasion of the opera house. Milton Cross’ broadcast commentary for Guild is preserved and adds to the nostalgic element of this performance.
The second disc of the Guild set includes 16 tracks from rare broadcast arias, recitals and song, in memorial of Florence Quartararo, and is unalloyed joy to listen to. Fiery intensity distinguishes Un bel di vedremo, without sacrificing on tone and technique – a fantastic performance, though no-one will believe she’s an underaged geisha. Her familiarity with Italian (and whichever language she happens to be singing at the point) helps her colouration of the words she sings and adds to the vividness of her characterization.
Quartararo’s duets with Ramon Vinay show off her dramatic acting-singing. Her Act I Tosca is eminently believable (if no Callas), her Michaela in Parle-moi de ma mre feminine and sweet. Anyone can have a lovely voice, but one put to such service to drama is rare and one wonders what a performance with her as Desdemona under Toscanini would have sounded like. Alas, she could have been one of the great sopranos of her time but she gave up the theatre for her family. At least in this release by Guild we can enjoy her art. Richard Caniell’s transfers are non-interventionist; the surface noise unobtrusive. A release to treasure.
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