Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana
Though not quite such an obvious recommendation as the Milanov/Bjorling Aida reviewed below, this set is well worth hearing and perhaps acquiring as it has a price advantage over its rivals. Milanov may sound a trifle mature for Santuzza, but who today, or in any day, fills Mascagni's grateful phrases with quite such full, lustrous tone and with such a wealth of feeling for the text? This is verismo singing on the grandest, most authentic scale and very welcome back to the catalogue as such. Bjorling may be a trifle too gentlemanly for Turiddu, as is Bergonzi on the Karajan version (DG 419 257-2GH2, 10/87), but better that than too much overt passion perhaps and—like his soprano—his singing is an exemplar of the spinto style at its best, with much fine shading of the tone and an inward feeling for the part. As Alfio, Merrill turns in one of his most considerable performances on disc. Indeed these three non-Italians prove the exception to the rule that Italians are essential in Italian repertory, but then all three were brought up in a stricter school than that pertaining today.
Cellini's conducting is no more than adequate. The recording is very restricted in range and unatmospheric in sound. For a fuller, more sonorous account of the score, in stereo, the Karajan is hard to equal, but his spacious version is twinned with Pag. If you want this opera alone I would suggest this version.'