Mascagni (L')Amico Fritz
One would need to have an inordinate amount of time on one’s hands to justify much of it being spent watching or listening to these. Possibly, having met L’amico Fritz on records (perhaps in the delightful set with Freni and Pavarotti on EMI) and despairing of finding a stage production within easy travelling distance, one might like to see this film of a 2002 production at Livorno, Italy. Conceivably, having admired Shirley Verrett in the 1960s and ‘70s, one may want to witness her first Santuzza in an otherwise undistinguished Cavalleria rusticana of 1990. Or perhaps, liking those two operas and knowing others by Mascagni (seven of the lesser known are available on disc), you may feel that his one-act curiosity Zanetto should be added to the list. Even so, it would be irresponsible to guarantee more than incidental pleasure, either musical or dramatic.
L’amico Fritz is indeed an enchanting score but its story is too slight to sustain a full-length opera. This sympathetic staging only confirms the guess that it is an opera better heard than seen. In the title-role, José Bros sings with penetrating tone and an impersonal manner that does little to explain why the somewhat stolid Suzel, Dimitra Theodossiou, is so keen on him. The best singing comes from Alessandro Paliaga as the Rabbi David.
Cavalleria rusticana every now and then takes one suddenly by the throat, as it usually will in any half-worthy performance. It is well conducted, sensitively played and faithfully produced. Verrett, who gives a useful introduction to the opera from the famous Piazza del Campo in Siena, acts feelingly, but her voice, while undiminished in strength and range, has lost much of its former tonal beauty (the Mamma Lucia is distinctly more pure and lustrous in quality). The Turiddu, Kristjan Johannson, has the voice but is unsubtle and until his last solo almost entirely inexpressive.
Zanetto, from 1896, has only two roles and even less of a story than L’amico Fritz. The writing intrigues rather than satisfies, and the experimental originality of concept commands a certain wonder. But in this 2003 production it looks like some melodramatic piece from the days of silent film. Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni’s worn voice is hardly compensated for, either here or in the recital of verismo arias, by her evident sincerity and professionalism. Romina Basso as Zanetto (a travesto role) has character and a fresh-sounding voice that develops a slightly disturbing quick vibrato on high. The unaccompanied chorus which constitutes the overture as heard in the sound- recording on Nuova Era (3/90) is omitted and an orchestral prelude substituted.