Friday, September 20, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: "He said, she said" in the opening scenes of "I Pagliacci"


NEDDA: How his eyes did blaze! I turned mine
away for fear he should read
my secret thought!
Oh, if he should catch me,
brutal as he is! But enough,
these are frightening nightmares and silly fancies!
[A] - [C]

[D] - [F]

by Ken

This week we return to the troubled marriage of Canio and Nedda, the protagonists of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, whose acquaintance we made several weeks ago "On our way to focusing on Nedda's scenes with the two baritones of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci." Tonight we've plunged right into the recitative that Nedda sings when she's left alone at her traveling players' troupe's makeshift performance site for the night while Canio and the others head off to have a drink with the Calabrian villagers who have greeted the troupe's arrival with such excitement.

You'll recall that when Tonio, the troupe's hunchbacked clown, declined the invitation to join the others, saying he wanted to groom the little donkey, a villager jokingly warned Canio that Tonio was really staying behind to pay court to Nedda, Canio kind of went berserk, explaining at first calmly that "the theater and life aren't the same thing; no, they're not the same thing," that if onstage Pagliaccio should return home unexpectedly to find his wife Columbina being courted by Arlecchino, a fine theatrical scene would ensue, drawing rousing applause from the audience. But he became increasingly agitated as he noted that if the same thing were to happen in real life, it would end very differently. The crowd that had earlier been so thoroughly won over by Canio's gracious, charismatic charm, found itself befuddled -- and Nedda too, declaring herself (to herself) confounded.

In just a moment we're going to hear all of that again, along with the connecting material and the whole of Nedda's "Ballatella," but for tonight I really want to focus on Nedda's first utterances, less than a minute's worth of music. What we're hearing in these tiny clips is exactly what you see on the above printed page of vocal score (which, by the way, you can click on to enlarge), sung by six very differently distinguished sopranos. (Apologies for the noise level on the first. It's an acoustical recording, but I'm sure better transfers exist.) We're going to break down the rest of the recitative in Sunday's post, before moving on to the little aria itself. But I think each of these chunks continas such a remarkable sequence of mental events that it's all worth attending to carefully.


[A] Claudia Muzio (s), Nedda. Edison, recorded Jan. 21, 1921
[B] Victoria de los Angeles (s), Nedda; RCA Victor Orchestra, Renato Cellini, cond. RCA-EMI, recorded Jan. 10-29, 1953
[C] Maria Callas (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 12-17, 1954

[D] Gabriella Tucci (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded 1958
[E] Teresa Stratas (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Georges Prêtre, cond. Philips, recorded 1983
[F] Renée Fleming (s), Nedda; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond.
 Decca, recorded July 3-9, 1999


And we heard it in style with Jussi Bjoerling, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Franco Corelli as Canio. So tonight we're calling in some vocal reinforcements. We'll start with the villager's warning to Canio.

LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, 2nd Villager, "Bada, Pagliaccio" ("Watch out, Pagliaccio"_ . . . Canio, "Un tal gioco" ("Such a game") . . . "Bell Chorus" . . . Nedda, "Quel fiamma avea nel guardo!" . . . "Stridono lassù"
2nd VILLAGER [jokingly]: Look out, Pagliaccio, he only wants to stay
to pay court to Nedda!
CANIO: Hey, hey . . . you think so?
Such a game, believe me,
it's better not to play
with me, my friends, and that goes
for Tonio, and a bit for all of you too!
The theater and life are not the same thing!
No, they're not the same thing!
[Pointing to the stage] And if up there
Pagliaccio should surprise his wife
with a gallant lover, he gives a comic sermon,
then calms down or submits to being thrashed!
And laughing heartily the public applauds!
But if I were really to catch Nedda,
the tale would have a different ending,
as sure as I'm standing here!
Such a game, believe me, it's better not to play!
NEDDA [aside]: I'm befuddled!
VILLAGERS [to CANIO]: Did you take it
seriously then?
CANIO: Me? You think so? Excuse me!
I adore my wife!
[The sound of bagpipes offstage.]
BOYS: The pipers! The pipers!
MEN: They are on their way to church.
[The church bells sound vespers.]
OLD PEOPLE: They are accompanying the happy train
of couples as they go to vespers.
WOMEN: Come, everyone. The bell
calls us to the Lord.
CANIO: But be sure to remember,
at eleven tonight.
CHORUS: Let’s go, let’s go!
Bell Chorus
CHORUS: Dong, ding-dong!
Ding-dong, vespers sounds,
girls and boys, ding-dong!
In pairs let's hurry to the church,
ding-dong, yonder the sun
kisses the western heights.
Our mothers watch us --
look out, companions.
Ding-dong, the world is gleaming
with light and love.
But our elders keep watch
over bold lovers!
Already the world is gleaming
with light and love.
Dong, ding-dong, etc.
[During the chorus, CANIO has gone behind the theater to take off his Pagliaccio costume. He returns, nods a smiling farewell to NEDDA and leaves with BEPPE and five or six villagers. NEDDA remains alone.]
NEDDA: Recitative
How his eyes did blaze! I turned mine
away for fear he should read
my secret thought!
Oh, if he should catch me,
brutal as he is! But enough,
these are frightening nightmares and silly francies!

Oh, what a beautiful mid-August sun!
I'm brimful of life
and all languishing
with mysterious desire -- I don't know what I wish!
Oh, how the birds fly up, and what a screaming!
What are they asking? Where are they going? Who knows?
My mother, who used to tell fortunes,
understood their song,
and to me as a child she would sing:
Ah! Ah!

They scream away up there to their hearts' content,
hurled into flight like arrows, the birds.
They defy the clouds and the fierce sun,
and go about the paths of the sky.
Let them roam the air,
these creatures thirsty for blue skies and bright splendor!
They too follow a dream, a mirage
and soar among the gilded clouds!
Wind may pursue and storm bray,
with wings outspread, they can defy all;
rain, the lightning flash, nothing ever stops them,
and they soar above the abyss and the sea.
They fly far off there to a strange country
of which perhaps they dream, and seek in vain.
But the gypsies of the sky follow the mysterious power
that drives them on, and go! And go! And go!
-- English translation (mostly) by Peggie Cochrane

2nd Villager (t), uncredited; Mario del Monaco (t), Canio; Gabriella Tucci (s), Nedda; Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded 1958

2nd Villager (t), uncredited; Jon Vickers (t), Canio; Joan Carlyle (s), Nedda; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Live performance, 1968


As noted, we continue to focus on Nedda's monologue and see how far into the scene we can advance. (We may also go backwards a little.)


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."


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