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Simionato and Olivero on Bruna Rasa

Giulietta Simionato on Mascagni and Lina Bruna Rasa,
From the Outtakes to the Film
Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas

Stefan Zucker: Did you sing Cavalleria under Mascagni’s baton?

Giulietta Simionato: I did Mamma Lucia once with him, in 1940, for the recording. I also did Lola with him, for Cavalleria’s 50th anniversary. I didn’t make it in time for Santuzza. I did L’amico Fritz near Rome and other things, not Cavalleria. But he heard me.

SZ: What is your opinion of Mascagni’s tempos as a conductor?

GS: One should not exaggerate with the slowness, because the drama suffers and the voices are only human. You can’t stretch out the score forever. Even with singers who have good breath spans it becomes too much. His tempos grew progressively slower until it no longer was possible to follow him. Singers took emergency breaths in the middle of phrases, trying to please him.

SZ: Did he accept the tempos of other conductors?

GS: Yes. However, he said, “I wrote it. I know what the tempos should be.” He was a little bit of a bully.

SZ: Can you compare your Santuzza with Lina Bruna Rasa’s?

GS: Bruna Rasa had a beautiful voice, but the poor thing soon became a little demented. She was a favorite of Mascagni because he had written Cavalleria for a soprano, and he didn’t like it sung by mezzos. So when he heard me sing it, naturally he had his doubts. But afterwards he said, “I didn’t believe that . . . I was wrong.”

SZ: Did Bruna Rasa use chest voice?

GS: Yes. She sang a [middle-voice] A with chest, for example, at “Io piango, io piango” [at the end of “Voi lo sapete”]. I couldn’t, but she did. It was ugly, certainly, but she was able to do it because she had an emission that allowed it. Mascagni permitted her to do it. Another thing—Mascagni in his music always resolved at the passaggio [change of register]. He had a strange fondness for that note. Unfortunately down there you can’t force or push your head voice. A singer with a long career in back of her might be astute enough to bring up chest resonance without damaging her voice, but most would not be able to do this. Without chest it just isn’t possible to resolve on those notes with enough force. Even in L’amico Fritz, all of Beppe’s arias finish on F-sharp, right in the middle of the passaggio.

SZ: Where is your passaggio?

GS: It’s F-sharp-for everyone, sopranos and mezzos alike. I don’t know about men, because I’ve never looked into that.

Magda Olivero on Mascagni and Lina Bruna Rasa,
From the Outtakes to the Film
Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas

Stefan Zucker: Was the part of Santuzza suited to you?

Magda Olivero: I studied it with Maestro [Luigi] Ricci, who was the last repository of all these composers—Giordano, Puccini, Mascagni. Maestro Ricci added a sheet of paper to every page in his scores, with the metronome marks and directions of the composer. In fact all the metronome marks of Cavalleria were changed over the years. Ricci gave me all the correct metronome marks. All the authentic suggestions of the composer, vocal and scenic, are there.

SZ: I am confused because the tempos are different in the two recordings of Mascagni conducting Cavalleria—one a studio recording with Gigli and Bruna Rasa, the other, live, from Holland two years earlier, with Antonio Melandri and Bruna Rasa.

MO: With the passing of the years Mascagni’s arms grew heavier, and therefore his tempos grew slower and slower. Toward the end of his life his tempos had grown so slow that it became a real problem for his singers.

SZ: Do you think one of the versions of Cavalleria has the correct tempos?

MO: I wrote down in my score all the metronome marks that Maestro Ricci gave me. They correspond exactly to what Mascagni wanted.

SZ: It would be of great importance to publish Ricci’s notes.

MO: Yes. I will have to talk to the Sonzogno music publishers, particularly to Mrs. Ostali, the head. You’ve given me the idea. I’ll have to ask her, “Does your Cavalleria have the correct metronome markings or those that have changed over time?”

SZ: Did you sing under….

MO: Mascagni? No. I met him. I was present at a dress rehearsal of Cavalleria, with Bruna Rasa. I believe it was one of her last appearances.

SZ: Did she use chest voice?

MO: The voice was bellissima! And she was a beautiful woman too.

SZ: I believe you sang Santuzza just once.

MO: Yes, at the San Carlo in Naples.

SZ: Why not more performances?

MO: I don’t know, my career always has been very strange. I took it as it came. I never tried to organize my career. I never was deadly serious about it. Artistically, perhaps, yes, but as a career per se, I took it rather lightly.

SZ: Was the part too heavy for you?

MO: No. If it had been, I wouldn’t have sung it even once. Maestro Ricci agreed I could perform it. I sang Medea—and if that isn’t heavy! [laughs.] Much worse than Cavalleria! Terrible!