Texts on Verismo Arias
“Ridi, Pagliaccio” – “Laugh, Pagliaccio!” – this is certainly not an aria, nor is it a piece for a request concert. It is the cry of a tortured soul, the essence of verismo, realism on the opera stage. The focus here is not on the beautiful and the noble, but rather the gruesome and cruel: jealousy and hate, envy and violence, murder and manslaughter. Expressing these emotions without descending into a naturalistic parlando is the special challenge verismo presents to any singer. Enrico Caruso was the first one who knew how to combine these seemingly opposite elements: classical vocal technique with modern style, lush sound quality with the verbal impact of an actor. His recording of “Ridi, Pagliaccio!” is not only the benchmark sound document for all verismo: it also single-handedly transformed the recorded disc into a mass medium. Since then every famous tenor has recorded this dramatic monologue, and each one who has taken a crack at it ventures a comparison with the great artists of the past. When I recorded this scene with Jonas Kaufmann – it was at the heart of a new album of verismo scenes – I was probably even more excited than he was. As I had grown up with these arias, I know how diabolically hard it is to sing this repertoire. But right from the first take, Jonas was in such top form that I could concentrate totally on the music. He sang with so much expression and emotion, with such a huge palette of colors, that it was pure joy to make music with him. On top of that he has a full command of every subtlety of the Italian language; when he sings, the studio is instantly transformed into a stage. He doesn’t just sing notes, he acts with his voice. And this is exactly what sets his recording of “Ridi, Pagliaccio!” apart. When you hear him, you have the whole scene in full detail before your eyes, the despondency of an aging comedian, who has just found out that his young, attractive wife is cheating on him. Once we got this scene the can, we felt as happy as little kids.
(Taken from the book by Thomas Voigt: “Jonas Kaufmann, Meinen die wirklich mich?” (“Jonas Kaufmann, Who Me?”)
The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one of the oldest musical institutions in the world, founded in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V, is named for Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of liturgical music. Since 1895, the “Accademia” has maintained its own orchestra, which is also documented on a number of operatic recordings.
Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944), Italian composer and conductor, a student of Pietro Mascagni, the creator of “Cavalleria rusticana”. The best‑known of his operas today is “Francesca da Rimini” (based on the tragedy by Gabriele d’Annunzio), not least because of the DVD release of the Met production with Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo.
The “other Bohème” by Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857-1918) was given its world première one year after the Puccini version, in 1897 in the Teatro la Fenice in Venice. Despite five complete recordings (including one version with Lucia Popp) the opera has remained firmly in the shade of the world‑wide Puccini success to this day and is still waiting for its rediscovery on the international stages.
As teacher of Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886), so to speak, paved the way for verismo. His opera “La Gioconda” is firmly positioned in the standard repertoire, especially because of the tenor aria “Cielo e mar” and the famous “Dance of the Hours”, which acquired enormous popularity through Walt Disney’s movie “Fantasia”. His other operas, among them “I Lituani” (“The Lithuanians”, 1874), have faded into obscurity despite some significant qualities.
Licinio Refice (1885-1954), Italian composer, priest and teacher. His best‑known work is the opera “Cecilia”, first performed in 1934 in Rome with verismo diva Claudia Muzio in the title role.
Claudia Muzio (1889-1936), Italian soprano. Because of her expressive power as a singer and actress her contemporaries referred to her as “the Duse of the opera”, in reference to the towering Italian actress Eleonora Duse. She ranks as one of the most important singers of the verismo school. Many of her recordings have cult status among collectors, including Recife’s “Ombra di nube” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVcIBzMgTaQ) and “Addio del passato” from “La Traviata” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un1sHjSP8VE).