MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana – Maria Callas, soprano/ Giuseppe di Stefano/ Rolando Panerai, baritone/ Anna Maria Canali, mezzo-soprano/ Ebe Ticozzi, contralto – Chorus and Orch. of La Scala/ Tullio Serafin – Pristine Audio PACO 088, 77:25 [avail. in various versions from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Pristine’s Andrew Rose restores the 16-25 June and 3-4 August 1953 EMI recording of Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 one-act verismo classic Cavalleria Rusticana, led by the perennial maestro Tullio Serafin (1878-1968), whose sense of the monumental within the confines of the seemingly every day never becomes flaccid. With the legendary Maria Callas as Santuzza, the dramatic moment – if not every note of the musical score – receives its most thrilling realization. The deep cello chords that preface her entrance in “Dite, mamma Lucia” intimate the dark tenor of her suspicions of the unfaithful Turiddu, sung with his effortless silvery lyricism by Giuseppe di Stefano. For the most part, Callas’ high notes remain intact, suffering little shatter or wobble at the tops. Rolando Panerai (b. 1924) strikes us immediately with his earthy incarnation of the carter Alfio, his “Il cavallo scalpita” resonant with a hearty insolent materialism. The famous Easter Hymn emanates an eerie fatality – given that within it, Santuzza weeps for her excommunication by dint of her sin – especially when followed by the exquisite pathos of the Callas rendering of “Voi lo sapete, o mamma,” in which Santuzza reveals her having been seduced by Turiddu, even as his continues his affair with Lola.
Rather wonderful, di Stefano manages to beguile with his voice, his Turiddu a combination of suave village rake and callous narcissist. His cavalier presence in “Tu qui, Santuzza” contrasts brilliantly against Santuzza’s simmering despair. The “Battimi, insultami, t’amo e perdono,” of Santuzza’s loving grief plays against Lola’s cruel coquette, her “Fior di giaggiola,” intoned by Anna Maria Canali. By Lola’s entering the church to which Santuzza’s true love has become anathema, Mascagni manages a moment of dire hypocrisy on several levels. The assured posterity of the Callas-Stefano duet, “No, no Turiddu” in its present restored sound warrants the price of admission. Having cast Santuzza to the ground in selfish lust after Lola, Turiddu invokes Nemesis, here in the “white” tones of Santuzza’s “pious” revelation to Alfio of the affair. And so the lull before the storm in the unoccupied public square: Serafin’s yearning realization of the forty-eight measure Intermezzo, its understated agony a full account of what lay before and what tragedy remains.
The tragic wisdom of the music takes Dionysiac form in Turiddu’s drinking song, “Viva, il vino spumeggiante,” if we recall the myth of drunken Silenus, who told King Midas that Man’s greatest good would be not to have been born. The “ruby wine” of Turiddu’s confident lust will transform into a thicker red with his blood. It seems apt to praise the La Scala Chorus under Serafin, a veritable force of nature. Panerai’s brute Alfio cannot be appeased, and so the Sicilian vengeance must proceed. The cello line at “Compar Alfio” intones a dirge for Turiddu, and his answer to the stiletto lies in more drink. “Un bacio, mamma! Un alto bacio! – Addio!” To die upon a kiss has been a romantic conceit since Othello. Stefano’s voice rings superb, a last plea for the breath of life itself. Mama Lucia (Ebe Ticozzi) and a hapless Santuzza wander aimlessly to await Turiddu’s destruction. “Hammo ammazatto compre compare Turiddu!” They have murdered our neighbor Turiddu; or has Tristan merely suffered his inevitable passion?