Leoncavallo Pagliacci (in English)
“Hello … Hello” is the neat rendition of “Si puo … si puo”, presumably unthinkable in the days which produced “A word allow me” as its translation. “A slice of life as we live it” replaces “life with its laughter and sorrow”, “Will ye hear then the story?” becomes “Now you know what we’re here for”, and “Ring up the curtain” (can’t do much about that) is now “Bring up the curtain”. Two others: at the point in the Nedda-Silvio duet which inspired Fred Weatherly’s couplet “For such a passion/The whip’s the fashion”, Edmund Tracey wisely renounces rhyme in favour of “I tamed him nicely ... I gave him a beating”, and “Put on your costume” (this is almost like rewriting The Book of Common Prayer) does for “On with the motley”.
The text is one thing, the performance another. Opera singers are trained to pronounce their words in a very pure English which nowadays sounds more upper-class than it did not so long ago when all ‘official’ pronunciation was ‘pure’ in this sense. The “slice of life” involves travelling players and villagers, but they all sound like ladies and gentlemen: it takes some of the verity out of verismo. There is of course a problem in all this. Similarly, one doesn’t want the chorus to sound spontaneous by being less than well disciplined; on the other hand, their “Ha ha” at the play has something of the drilled amusement of a well-conducted studio audience. And, though vocal bluster and tears to drown the wind are not wanted either, there does need to be some infusion of Southern passion. On the whole (and perhaps it’s a fault on the right side) I find the singing a shade too well mannered.
Dennis O’Neill’s Canio is fine as to vocal resource and avoidance of cheapness; but “Un tal gioco” wants ironical bite, “Vesti la giubba” more sense of occasion, “No, Pagliaccio non son” more tension, bitterness and (at one point) sweetness. Rosa Mannion is an admirable Nedda, and both baritones do well, Alan Opie excellent in the Prologue, William Dazeley showing himself a lyric baritone of pleasing quality and tasteful style. The off-stage serenade is nicely sung by Peter Bronder, and the chorus are fine. Over the years, David Parry’s conducting has grown steadily in authority, and in the climax (menace in the accompaniment to “No, Pagliaccio” for instance) more than fulfils expectations. With effective work by producer and sound engineers, this is a Pagliacci which will enhance appreciation of the opera and take a worthy place in the eminently collectable series.'