Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Pagliacci

Composer: Ruggiero Leoncavallo 
Opera: Pagliacci
Label: Hardy Classic Video DVD HCD4016 (1 disc) • ADD
Color: Black & white 
Year of release: 2005
Duration: 1.43' hours
Regioncode: 0 
Optional subtitles: English, French, Italian, Spanish 
Value: 7/10 (Gobbi, Corelli) | Sound: 8 | Picture: 8 | Importance: 10 

Performers:

Canio Franco Corelli
Tonio Tito Gobbi 
Nedda Mafalda Micheluzzi 
Beppe Mario Carlin 
Silvio Lino Puglisi 

Orchestra & chorus of Radio Televisione Italiana
Conductor: Alfredo Simonetto 
Film director: Franco Enriquez 
26 september, 1954

Bonus I

01. Leo Fall: Die Rose von Stambul 'O rosa di Stambul'

Occasion: RAI Television show 'Principesse, Violini,e champagne'
Color: Black & white 
Year of broadcast: 1963

Bonus II

RAI television arias (filmed while playbacking to his earlier commercial recordings) *** 
Color: color 
Year of recording: 1982 

02. Bizet: Carmen 'La fleur que tu m’avais jetée'
03. Verdi:
 Aida 'Se quel guerrier io fossi?. . . Celeste Aida'
04. Verdi: Il trovatore 'Ah sì, ben mio. . . L’onda de’ suoni mistici. . . Di quella pira"
05. Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana 'Mamma, quel vino è generoso'
06. Verdi: Messa da Requiem 'Ingemisco'

Carmen actress: Gretel Santamaria 
Il trovatore actors: Gabriella Tucci (playbacking herself) & Carlo di Cristoforo (playbacking to the voice of Angelo Mercuriali)
Cavalleria rusticana actress: Gianna Lollini (playbacking the voice of Adriana Lazzarini)

*** 'Nessun dorma' and 'Granada', both present in the original broadcast, are ommitted on the dvd.

This dvd transfer of the famous 1954 Pagliacci truly offers un nido di memorie. Next to the first ever television appearance of Franco Corelli, there is the unsurpassable Tonio of Tito Gobbi and some fine conducting from Alfredo Simonetto. In addition to all that, there are two interesting bonus features including the operetta aria 'O rosa di Stambul' and the notorious RAI costumed stagings by Corelli in the eighties, where he lip-synched to a recorded playback some of his most famous aria recordings. These eighties stagings came at a time when Corelli was contemplating a possible comeback. All this is made available by Hardy Classic Video in a technically impeccable print, with matching sound.

Un grande spettacolo

If this black & white Pagliacci offers anything to match modern color productions of the same opera, it is exactly because this is indeed what Canio promises the spectators at the beginning of the opera: un grande spettacolo. But before discussing young Corelli's merits in this production it is necessary to give due honor to the star of the show, Tito Gobbi. Rightfully so or not, he manages to turn Tonio into the vocal brother of Iago, pointing out that Leoncavallo's melodies were not born of a sudden verismo rain above the mediterranean peninsula. And the only thing in this production that truly matches his vocal phrasing and shading is his acting: Gobbi is the living image of the wretched creature Tonio, despised, submissive, vengeful. Often Canio rules the show because he has the most rewarding vocal parts, but this Tonio is clearly the master mind of this production (and contrary to Iago in Otello, Tonio also gets away with it). 

When we consider poor Canio, this production offers another revelation, for Corelli was never more credible as an actor than he is here. There is no doubt that we owe this to a director who understood the importance of credible gestures – it looks like someone designed a ballet for Corelli's arms and hands! And because of this he is finally relieved of being at a loss with his hands, which all too often resulted in the 'great tenor gesture' of the throbbing right arm, ready to rise in a grand way on any occasion. The same can be said regarding his facial expressions: the anger in his eyes expressed while singing 'Un tal gioco' looks truly genuine. And, as with Gobbi, it is matched by a stunning vocal performance; none of his few later renderings of Canio were as convincing as this one. He is in stunning vocal condition, with a free and truly luscious, vibrant voice. His singing is tender, sad, dramatic, passionate and his voice is capable of expressing the full range of emotions contained in the tragedy that unfolds before our eyes, until everything explodes in a thrilling, not to say nervewracking finale, that is as true to life as the libretto wants it to be. Yes, one can see why he wanted to subdue the vibrato that is apparent in his voice here, as it clearly is the result of - as he put it himself - a faulty technique, of breath that hadn't found it's proper way, but how spectacular that ringing vibrato sounds here!

My colleague Marina Boagno is perhaps right when she writes that this opera is the one where Corelli lacked the physique du rôle , as he is supposed to be the ugly one who is betrayed by his young wife Nedda, who desires the bell'uomo Silvio. The fact that Mafalda Micheluzzi's lover, Lino Puglisi, is not the most famous baritone around should not prevent anyone from buying this dvd, as the second string singers in those days would reign unchallenged today. Perhaps things are just the way Magda Olivero recently pointed out to me, when she said that the maestri in the fifties had known all these composers personally and were familiar with the style in which they had intended their works to be performed. Perhaps it was also true then that fine voices were very likely to be discovered at some point, which unfortunately isn't the case today. There's also the difference in training: sound legato and proper blending of the registers were still considered fundamental for a singer's career. Fact is that Puglise acts his part of the simple but physically attractive lover convincingly enough to hold his own, as does tenor Mario Carlin in the part of Beppe/ Arlecchino.

The main problem in this wonderfully staged and filmed production is Micheluzzi's Nedda. Where Silvio and Beppe don't have to be equal to Canio and Tonio, you simply can't put less than the best soprano next to Gobbi and Corelli when it comes to the object of their desires. Micheluzzi's Nedda is vocally solid, though perhaps a little bit old fashioned, but she simply lacks a spectacular voice. Her timbre is monochromatic and her singing rather dull, when compared to the great Neddas of the fifties. She does act the part, but even though she is clearly chosen for her looks, she is not good looking enough to make you believe that Corelli and Gobbi would set the world on fire for her. Perhaps the dress costumes, which turn her all too clearly into a second rate Carmencita, also don't help matters.

BONUS I

Hardy Classic Video decided to fill some space on this dvd after the Pagliacci with the above mentioned stagings of some arias in the eighties and also with a little known rarity from the history of operetta series RAI television broadcast in the early sixties: 'O rosa di Stambul' from Leo Fall's operetta of the same name. The black and white fragment featuring Corelli is staged in the studio and apparently lip-synched to playback of the soundtrack that has been made for this purpose and that never has been released in the audio format. Until recently the only available copy of this came from a pirated copy taken from an Italian TV broadcast, which had fair sound and print but which was marred by a dreaded glitch in the beginning of the aria. Those who have always hoped for an impeccable copy are being well served here, because Hardy Classic Video's cooperation with RAI Italy gives them access to the master tapes of these productions. Perhaps we should follow the line of the author of the accompanying text, who states that Fall's aria has never sounded so luscious and ringing as here. And we can add that it is a great pleasure to see how Corelli's Rolls Royce manoeuvres through such irrisistable Viennesque passages as "Il desiderio dei sogni miei! Tu sola sei." A treasure!

BONUS II

A true fan wouldn't want to miss the eighties RAI stagings of arias, where a sixty-two year old Corelli is lip-synching to playbacks of his recordings from the sixties, but few would disagree that it was an ill born experiment. Perhaps less so when it was presented in it's original context, where the arias were embedded in a long TV interview that somehow seemed to legitimate things because it concerned arias from his great roles that simply didn't exist in any staged film- or video format: Carmen (the recently issued complete Carmen on dvd had been considered lost for many years at the time of the RAI interview show), Aida, Il trovatore (will that long lost film ever pop up in the archives of RAI Italy?), Cavalleria Rusticana. In addition to that we get to see a staged version of the Ingemisco from Verdi's Messa di Requiem . Unfortunately Hardy Classic Video chose to omit the interview portion here, which was rather informative and would have contributed greatly to the value of this release. Even more problematic: the omission of 'Nessun dorma' and 'Granada', that were both present in the original RAI TV show.

Nevertheless we should focus on the positive side of this new dvd release, as we now have the arias in great print and matching sound. Moreover, playback technology has advanced since the fifties and Corelli still seems to be singing along instead of merely making lip movements. Also, RAI Italy also actually did an acceptable job of producing scenic backgrounds in which Corelli can show his beautiful costumes. All in all, the Trovatore fragment is the most convincing, as there is some genuine interaction with the Leonora, which is not surprising as the actress playing the role here is none other than the original Leonora from the recording, Gabriella Tucci herself! Small wonder they asked her, for even today, at more than 70 years of age, she is still looking gorgeous (for those who don't believe this: the promophotos on the cover of Tucci's new G.O.P. Verdi arias release were made especially for that production, that is, in 2005). Equally convincing is the Cavalleria Rusticana fragment where someone seems to have made an inside joke out of finding a mamma that looks like one would expect the mother of Mirella Freni to look. In these portions, Corelli benefits from the interaction with his partner, while the isolated 'Celeste Aida' from Aida shows what has been pointed out above: that he could sometimes be ill at ease with his hands. And, the cardboard setting doesn't help too much either. Worst of all is perhaps the flower aria from Carmen, where he acts in his beautiful (but unflattering) costume opposite a dumb dumbo Carmen starlet who doesn't even move when he assaults her shoulders with a falcon like movement of his claws. Perhaps she'd make a fine Micaela, but as 'Carmen in waiting' she is a mere laughing stock.

Perhaps the most impressive document among these filmed fragments is the 'Ingemisco' from Verdi's Messa di Requiem. This vignette shows his genuine religious side to best effect - this prayer may be lip-synched to playback of an earlier recording, but it certainly isn't acted!

NOTE ON THE PRODUCTION

Though Hardy Classic Video releases fine products that have gained for them an unchallenged position in the field of historical operatic dvd releases, it remains a mystery how an Italian company can present Pagliacci as "I pagliacci" in the index. Worse: Ruggiero Leoncavallo appears on the back cover as Ruggero and Beppe is listed as Peppe. In addition to that the author of the booklet gives us misinformation such as the following statement about the bonus features from the RAI TV interview show of 1983: "Though the great opera star had retired from the stage several years earlier, in his broadcast he appears indomitable, with his fine tenor voice, in some of his beloved roles." Not only does it elude this author that Corelli isn't singing but rather is lip-synching to playback, but also it eludes him that Corelli does so to his recordings from 15 to 20 years earlier! And worse: regarding the Verdi Requiem the author maintains that this 'Ingemisco' is Corelli's first, apart from a live performance in 1967. Apparently the operatic knowledge at Hardy Classic Video stops at the doors of RAI Italy, for how difficult could it be to realize that Corelli released a complete album with religious arias in the sixties, an album that has been out on cd for some years now, and that provides the original for this filmed fragment. And then: how difficult could it be these days to know that he was born on April 8, 1921 and not on April 18, as the biography on the dvd states (although that may simply be a sloppy typographical error).

More important perhaps than the trivia above is the fact that Hardy Classic Video cropped the format of the original Pagliacci film to the extent of cutting even from top and bottom of the celluloid (the names of the participants are cut off on top and below), which is a truly horrible thing to do with any movie. However, these 'trivia' don't affect the pleasure in watching this marvellous production in a serious way and this release should provide some treasured hours to all those who love the lyric stage. Highly recommended! – RS.

***

For streaming sample clippings we refer you to the Filmography page.

Upcoming and past bookpresentations

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  • April 10, 2012 UK - London (Hotel)
  • March 19, 2008 The Netherlands, Amsterdam - Weteringschans 29