Mascagni I Rantzau
I Rantzau was Mascagni's third opera, produced in 1892, two years after Cavalleria rusticana. It was widely performed and successful well into the twentieth century, and was especially praised in Vienna for its subtle orchestration. The plot, a sort of small-town Romeo and Juliet story with a happy ending, set in Alsace during the early nineteenth century, was obviously chosen to be as un-Cavalleria-like as possible. The fact that the play by Erckmann and Chatrian on which it is based had itself been well received was no doubt an additional attraction. As turned into a libretto, however, the first problem with I Rantzau is its plot: there is nowhere near enough of it for four acts. Desperate expedients are resorted to: a schoolmaster, otherwise quite irrelevant to the story, is frequently wheeled on to tell the characters on stage things that they could perfectly well tell each other. When one of the two brothers, whose estrangement is the main meat of the plot, gains control of a parcel of land that the other was after, he asks the teacher to celebrate his success with a song. ''But what can a poor village organist sing?'' asks he. Cue, believe it or not, for a four-part Kyrie eleison of extreme dullness, eventually counterpointed with an off-stage chorus of disaffected peasants singing something so picturesquely meaningless that Mascagni's librettists must have intended it as an Alsatian folk-song.
The happy ending, the two implacable brothers reconciled by the eloquence of the son of one of them (who loves the daughter of the other, of course) is accomplished not in a grand, heart-easing ensemble but in a competent, rather Giordano-ish aria for the tenor (but a perilously brief one) and an orchestral reprise of quite a pretty Intermezzo from earlier on. Nor does any of the characters have any real depth or breadth. Only when the two brothers are on stage together (and they hate each other so much that doesn't happen often) is there much real tension or electricity. The two lovers have a splendid and impassioned duet, and each has a decent aria (the tenor, Giorgio, has two) with a real Mascagni tune to it, but neither of them has a scrap of character, and if Giorgio had been killed in a duel by his rival and if Luisa had retired to a nunnery in a huff I shouldn't have cared two straws, so there.
Still, Mascagni's admirers will be interested to hear it, and they will probably not too much mind the flaws of this performance, ably held more or less together by Bruno Rigacci. Lantieri tries hard, but her voice is small and not quite steady. Anderson is taxed at times by a vocal line conceived for Fernando de Lucia, but manages his limited resources intelligently. Garaventa and Colaianni are both capable, the latter unfazed even by one of the worst-timed, most politically incorrect jokes in operatic history. Boldrini unfortunately sings out of tune and thus makes the Kyrie sound even nastier than it is. The chorus are competent but often, like several of the soloists, placed a long way away from the microphones. The orchestra is very small, and does not succeed in persuading me that those Viennese who found this opera orchestrally subtle did not have ears of cloth.