OP0064. CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, Live Performance, 7 Nov., 1938, Royal Theatre, The Hague, w.Pietro Mascagni Cond. Lina Bruna-Rasa, Antonio Melandri, Afro Poli, Rina Gallo-Toscani, Maria Meloni, etc. (Italy) Bongiovanni 1050. Final copy! - 8007068105021
“…Pietro Mascagni himself [conducted] [CAVALLERIA] in one of the annual Italian guest seasons [in Holland]. One performance, 7 November, 1938, was professionally recorded, although it did not circulate until the late 1960s. The composer brought with him his then-favourite Santuzza, Lina Bruna Rasa, and Antonio Melandri….Bruna Rasa manages an ideal combination of dangerous mezzo chest-voice when threatened, utter soprano vulnerability in defense, and the most resonant handling of the words. Melandri expands on his already potent performance on the Columbia studio recording. Their duet is both the wildest and grandest yet caught on disc, the composer/conductor hanging on, seemingly for ever, to its concluding coda/transition….This vital performance has unique gravitas and danger.”
- Mike Ashman, GRAMOPHONE, Jan., 2009
“In his performances of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA at the Met, by his own account, Leonard Bernstein, on grounds of historical fidelity, copied the notoriously slow tempos of the Mascagni-conducted studio recording of the opera from 1940. However, in the recording of the performance heard here, from two years before the studio recording, running times are faster even though he slows down more often. In the live version tempos ebb and flow almost continuously, with gradations so subtle that you never feel a movement lacks a basic tempo. In many styles of music it is desirable to find one tempo that fits the movement, without requiring adjustment, but not here. Because of fewer tempo inflections, the studio recording has insufficient variety and contrast.
In both versions Mascagni observed the metronome marks in the score, but this tells only part of the story because there are relatively few of them. Mascagni inflected the tempos greatly. The difference between the recordings in part is the difference between the tempo inflections. In the live ‘Intermezzo’, in particular, Mascagni employs unwritten ritardandos and accelerandos, seemingly to emphasize harmonic relaxation and to heighten contrast. In the studio version he has many more ritardandos than accelerandos. In both versions the melodies sound more lyrical, more beautiful but at times less propulsive than under other conductors.
On the live recording the orchestra has wonderful dynamic range, playing very softly on occasion, and is exquisitely balanced so that melodically important notes are distinguished from harmonic filler, with the musicians treating not notes but phrases as units. The chorus, too, is more responsive to Mascagni on the live version.
Lina Bruna Rasa is in better voice on the live version. In the live recording, even more than in the studio version, she sings with great pathos and is moving to the point that her Santuzza is among the outstanding examples of ‘il fuoco sacro’ (the sacred fire) - what in Rossini's day was called ‘singing felt in the soul’.
In the live version, Antonio Melandri, sounding like a lighter weight Italian Jon Vickers, sings an uncommonly feelingful and plaintive ‘Addio alla madre’.
Bernstein evidently was unaware of the existence of the live recording. One wonders what effect it would have had on his interpretation.”
- Stefan Zucker
“…there is an underlying urgency and pulse in addition to the inevitable frisson engendered by [the above] actual performance. This is further augmented by the searing, almost unbearably dramatic interpretation given by the soprano. She seems to be living her rôle, and the listener will find it hard not to be captivated by such abandon.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Jan./Feb., 2004
“Lina Bruna Rasa was an Italian operatic soprano, particularly noted for her performances in the verismo repertoire and was a favourite of Pietro Mascagni who considered her the ideal Santuzza. Bruna Rasa created the rôles of Atte in Mascagni's NERONE, Cecilia Sagredo in Franco Vittadini's LA SAGREDO and saint clare in Licinio refice's 1926 oratorio, TRITTICO FRANCESCANO. she also sang the rôle of Tsaritsa Militarisa in the Italian première of Rimsky-Korsakov's THE TALE OF TSAR SALTAN.
Lina Bruna Rasa was born at Padua and began her music studies at age 14, studying with Guido Palumbo and Italiano Tabarin in her native Padua, and later in Milan with Manlio Bavagnoli. Her appearance in a 1925 concert at the Teatro La Fenice singing the ‘Suicidio!’ from LA GIOCONDA created a sensation. By the end of that year, at the age of 18 she made her operatic début singing the rôle of Elena in Boito's MEFISTOFELE at the Teatro Politeama in Genoa. She made her début at the Teatro Regio in Turin in the same rôle on 21 February 1926, and was engaged by Toscanini to sing Elena for the opening of the 1927 season at La Scala where she made her début on 16 November 1927. She went on to sing in many notable performances there including the world premières of Mascagni's NERONE, Franco Vittadini's LA SAGREDO, the Italian première of Rimsky-Korsakov's THE TALE OF TSAR SALTAN and some of the earliest performances Wolf-Ferrari's SLY, Vincenzo Michetti's LA MADDALENA, and Respighi's LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA. In a departure from her usual repertoire, she sang Mathilde for La Scala's celebration of the 100th anniversary of Rossini's WILLIAM TELL.
In the years between 1926 and 1933, Bruna Rasa sang throughout Italy as well as in Montecarlo, Nice, Lausanne and Barcelona where she sang Aïda at the city's Gran Teatre del Liceu. Further afield, she travelled to Egypt in 1927 where she sang in AÏDA and OMÒNIZA in Cairo's Teatro Reale. In 1929, she was engaged by the theatrical impresario, Faustino da Rosa, for a series of performances in South America. She made her début at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires on 14 June 1929 as Maddalena de Coigny in ANDREA CHÉNIER with Georges Thill as Chénier. She also sang there in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, TOSCA, and LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA in its South American première. In August, da Rosa's singers went on to Uruguay where she sang in ANDREA CHÉNIER (again with Thill) and TOSCA at the Teatro Solis in Montevideo.
Bruna Rasa's earliest assumptions of Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, the rôle for which she is best remembered today, were in 1927 in Lausanne and Bari. The opera's composer, Pietro Mascagni, and Bruna Rasa met for the first time in Venice in July 1928 when he conducted a performance of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA in the Piazza San Marco before a crowd of 35,000 people. Mascagni was struck by her dramatic intensity and her powerful yet beautiful voice. She was to become his favourite Santuzza. He subsequently conducted many of her performances in the rôle both in Italy and abroad and chose her for the 1940 recording of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA which marked the 50th anniversary of its première. It is the only full-length studio recording of the work which is conducted by Mascagni himself.
In the early 1930s Bruna Rasa had begun showing signs of the mental illness which was to cause her premature retirement from the stage. This worsened with the death of her mother in 1935. She suffered a severe breakdown which led to her spending increasingly longer periods away from the stage, often in sanatoriums. Gino Bechi who sang with her on the 1940 CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA recording recalled that during the recording sessions she would insistently ask him if he had noticed the white horses in the wings that she believed were waiting to take her away, but would become completely lucid when the music began. The tenor Giovanni Breviario who sang with her in Lecco in 1941 recalled: ‘Her marvelous voice came to life as soon as she began her scenes. This happened only onstage. We were all very affectionate toward her, but when not on the stage, she was passive, apathetic, would not speak and remained doggedly clinging to her handbag'.
On 20 July 1942, she sang in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA at the outdoor arena in Pesaro. It was to be her final performance in a staged opera.
Lina Bruna Rasa opened the 1927 Scala season as Elena in MEFISTOFELE, under Toscanini. That year she sang in the world premiere there of Wolf Ferrari's SLY. Mascagni chose her for the world premiere of his NERONE at La Scala (1935), for a CAVALLERIA tour in Holland, Belgium and France (1937) and for his studio recording of CAVALLERIA (1940). In 1935, after the death of her mother, she became schizophrenic and in 1937 tried to throw herself into the orchestra pit during a performance. In 1940 she was institutionalized but was released occasionally to perform. She moved Toscanini to tears at a 1947 Milan concert. After an unsuccessful comeback in 1948 she was returned to the institution. Lina Bruna Rasa spent the last 36 years of her life in a mental hospital in Milan, where she died."
- Stefan Zucker
“Giulietta Simionato was the greatest Italian mezzo-soprano of her era, an artist whose singular career was shaped as much by her innate elegance as by her extraordinary musical and dramatic gifts. In an era before opera singers were pigeonholed as ‘specialists’, Simionato constructed a personal repertoire that stretched from the eighteenth-century graces of Mozart, Gluck and Cimarosa to the bel canto heroines (and heroes) of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini to the formidable ladies of Verdi, Mascagni, Ponchielli and Cilèa. Today, it would be highly unlikely for an impresario to cast the same artist as Cherubino and Amneris, but Simionato sang them both - as well as Carmen, Octavian, Mignon, Berlioz's Didon, Valentine in LES HUGUENOTS and nearly one hundred other rôles.
Simionato's voice, brilliant in the upper register and luminous in mid-range, was not so large as those of her Italian contemporaries, but her arresting combination of verbal clarity and emotional honesty made her one of the most charismatic artists to emerge on the international scene in the 1950s. She was a petite woman, but her superb figure and perfect posture - to say nothing of the very high-heeled shoes she favored both on- and offstage - made her seem statuesque. Simionato's characterizations, unfailingly bold yet never broad, were charged with enormous compassion: audiences succumbed as much to her generous spirit as to the sheer beauty of her sound.
Born in Forlì, in Romagna, Simionato made her stage début at seventeen, in a musical comedy at the Teatro Sociale in Rovigo, and studied voice with Guido Palumbi in Padua. After a few professional appearances in small rôles, she won a singing competition sponsored by the Maggio Musicale that brought her a contract for her Florence début, in the world premiere of Pizzetti's ORSÈOLO, in 1935. The following year, Simionato began her professional association with La Scala, as a Flowermaiden in PARSIFAL. For the better part of the following decade, she was chiefly confined to comprimario rôles in Milan, a situation in part due to the seniority (and political connections) of other mezzos on the La Scala roster, such as Gianna Pederzini and Cloe Elmo. Simionato's luck began to change after she acquired new management and won good notices as Dorabella in Geneva, Octavian in Trieste and Cherubino at the Edinburgh Festival. A particularly successful 1947 engagement in Genoa as Thomas' Mignon, a character to which she was ideally suited, brought an invitation to repeat the rôle at La Scala. Simionato made an enormous hit, and her status as a major star was assured.
Simionato was active at all the principal theaters in Italy but remained especially beloved at La Scala, where her legendary triumphs included Rubria in Boito's NERONE under Toscanini (1948); Giovanna to Maria Callas' Anna Bolena (1957); Didon in the La Scala premiere of LES TROYENS (1957); Valentine in LES HUGUENOTS (1962); and Arsace to Joan Sutherland's Semiramide (1962). She appeared regularly at Salzburg, where she made memorable appearances as Orfeo (1959) and Azucena (1962) under Karajan's baton, and in Vienna, Paris, Mexico City and London, where her Covent Garden appearances included Adalgisa to Callas' Norma (1953) and Azucena in Luchino Visconti's staging of IL TROVATORE (1964).
Simionato made her U.S. opera début in 1953, as Charlotte to Cesare Valletti's Werther, at San Francisco Opera. San Francisco also heard Simionato as Rosina and as Marina in BORIS GODUNOV (in Italian) during her first SFO season, but she did not sing with the company again until 1962, when she returned as Azucena, Santuzza and Mistress Quickly.
Like many of the leading Italian artists of her generation, Simionato considered her artistic home in the U.S. to be Lyric Opera of Chicago (then known as Lyric Theatre of Chicago), where she bowed in 1954, as Adalgisa to Callas' Norma. Simionato sang thirteen rôles in her six seasons with the company, allowing Chicago to hear a more generous sampling of her great specialties than any other North American city. In October 1957, immediately after making her New York début as Giovanna in an American Opera Society concert of ANNA BOLENA, Simionato traveled to Chicago, where she sang two performances each of MIGNON, Santuzza, Laura in LA GIOCONDA, Cherubino and the Princesse de Bouillon in ADRIANA LECOUVREUR for Lyric Opera, all within the span of a month. Six days after her final Chicago ADRIANA - during which she injured her ankle and sang Act III seated in an improvised wheelchair - Simionato made another significant U.S. début, when she appeared in L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI during the inaugural season of Dallas Civic Opera. Two weeks after her final Dallas ITALIANA (on 24 November), Simionato opened the La Scala season, as Ulrica in a brand-new UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Such a rigorous schedule was business as usual for the fiercely disciplined Simionato, who typically sang eighty performances a year during the 1950s - and rarely canceled.
In 1954, the Met announced that Simionato would make her company début that season, as Orfeo, but she canceled her scheduled appearances, ceding the run of Gluck's opera to Risë Stevens. Simionato finally arrived at the Met on the opening night of the 1959–60 season, when she was Azucena in a new TROVATORE, directed by Herbert Graf. Despite her acclaim from the New York press and a significant number of devoted fans in Manhattan, Simionato sang just twenty-eight performances in four seasons with the Met - twelve as Amneris, six as Azucena, five as Santuzza and two as Rosina in BARBIERE, plus three 1965 tour performances of SAMSON ET DALILA, in which she sang Dalila in Italian, while the rest of the cast sang in French. The SAMSON presented during the 1965 spring tour's stop in Detroit marked Simionato's final Met performance and her final opera performance in the U.S.
The following season, when her second marriage, to the celebrated Italian physician Cesare Frugoni, was about to take place, Simionato decided to retire from the opera stage. She chose the thirtieth anniversary of her La Scala début – 6 February, 1966 - as the date. When she learned that the opera on the Scala schedule that night was Mozart's LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, Simionato learned the soprano rôle of Servilia in a few days and did a single performance of the opera at Piccola Scala. She did not sing in public again, save for a 1979 gala in honor of Karl Böhm, the maestro who had paced her first Cherubino, some thirty-two years earlier; in tribute to him, Simionato sang ‘Non so più’, transposed down an octave. Simionato enjoyed a long and comfortable retirement, frequently serving as a competition adjudicator and relishing the opportunity to comment on the state of singing in the years after she left the stage. After Frugoni's death, in 1978, Simionato married industrialist Florio De Angeli, who died in 1996.
Thanks to the impressive number of recordings she made during her great years, Simionato's artistry remains present and persuasive. Other artists may have filled Verdi with more sheer power or charged Rossini with a higher degree of virtuosity, but more than seventy-five years after her début, Simionato still sounds fresh and modern and natural in every measure. One cannot resist the spontaneity of her phrasing, the unerring simplicity with which she weights every word and reveals her profound connection to her music. It is a gift that will always set her apart from her rivals - if one chooses to accept that she had any.”
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, May, 2010