Mascagni Amica

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Mascagni Amica

  • Amica

Mascagni’s seventh opera, Amica, is these days pretty well his least known. He had a soft spot for it, regarding it as the best he had written up to that time (1905), which means, of course, that he thought it better than Cavalleria rusticana, than L’amico Fritz, better even than Iris. I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly has the expected Mascagni strengths: big, viscerally emotional tunes, expertly written for hefty, exciting voices, and a strong sense of local colour. Those who know Iris will recognize something of its flavour, though without the earlier opera’s orientalisms: the setting here is Savoy, and the atmosphere is pastoral-rhapsodic. The first sounds we hear are cowbells, then a lyrical oboe solo and a strikingly solemn orchestral depiction of daybreak with wordless off-stage chorus: it is impressive, and fills you with expectancy.
The plot is simple, a mechanism for producing emotional conflicts and confrontations. Loved by two brothers, Amica falls for the dashing, wayward, handsome Rinaldo but (you’ve guessed) her dictatorial uncle and guardian Camoine insists that she marry the shy and sickly Giorgio. She runs away with Rinaldo, revealing that he has a rival but not naming him. When Giorgio catches up with them, Rinaldo’s love for his brother proves stronger than his feelings for Amica. He gives her up, and asks her, in “pious self-sacrifice” to return to Giorgio. Aghast – and who wouldn’t be? – she loses her footing on a mountain precipice and falls to her death as both brothers exclaim “Fatal love!”I don’t think even Mascagni was convinced by that final scene: it is rather flat. Indeed, after a fine “Intermezzo” and some effectively mournful writing for the abandoned Giorgio, he finds little but angry or anguished declamation and reminiscences of earlier themes to fill the short Second Act (there are only two). The First is more eventful and much closer to vintage Mascagni, with two arias for Giorgio (the second of them, oddly but effectively, is a sort of incomplete duet, an eloquent string melody representing the silent Amica), another for Amica herself and a concluding duet for her and Rinaldo. Each, if it does not contain a memorable melody, has plenty of that passionate vehemence that sometimes does duty for melody among the verismo composers. It is an opera, in short, for star singers, and on the whole it is decently served here. Donati, a tenor, is effective in the high baritone role of Rinaldo; Armiliato is more strenuous as Giorgio, but the smaller parts are well taken. Ricciarelli cannot manage pure, high, floated lines as once she could, but she tries very hard and her sense of opulent line has not deserted her.
All this, however, and Pace’s affectionate handling of orchestral detail, are almost set at naught by a grotesque recording which adds a pronounced echo to everything and mechanically turns up the volume whenever anyone is singing quietly. The voices are inevitably distorted by this, and the orchestral sound is at times so dense that any sense of stereo image is lost. Fervent Mascagni fans will have to have it, of course, but I honestly cannot recommend it to anyone else.'

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