Pagliacci with Corelli

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Corelli, Micheluzzi, Gobbi; Simonetto. (1954). 75m. Packaged in a black sleeve. B&W (transferred from a kinescope).

PAL VHS only

Conrad L. Osborne, reviewing in The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Opera on Video

“Among the complete Canios left us, only Gigli really rivals this.”

“There is more than a historical byway to explore here. There’s a strong directorial intelligence at work, some surprisingly good acting, theatrically alert conducting, and flashes of great singing.

“The flavor is that of Italian postwar neorealism–this could almost be a De Sica or Rossellini production of that time, and not a bad one at that. The village of Montalto actually comes to life in the opening sequence, which culminates in a Bell Chorus that turns into a delightful street festival, beautifully finished except for a cue-nervous bell-tolling ragazzo.

“The second-act commedia is wonderfully staged: the tacky little show is not condescended to; backstage points-of-view help convey the feel of troupers doing their work under high personal tension; and the audience’s shifting involvement is tipped in with a sure touch. Cameo introductions of the characters during the prelude setup echoes in a performance-preparation sequence in the intermezzo–the sort of device that waves a red flag at the experienced viewer, but which in this case is given the right weight.

“Enriquez also accomplishes much with his interesting cast. Micheluzzi is stuck with a few posey shots that catch her in hands-on-hips clichés, but more often she’s strong and alive in her behavior, and unlike most singers is able to take in what other characters are sending. In the commedia, she tells the story to the audience with point and clarity.

“Corelli, though an improbably glamorous Canio, shows a surprising freedom in his acting, and a fulfilling intensity in some of the big moments. He also has charm as the bulb-nosed, plastered Pagliaccio.

“Puglisi’s sensibly acted Silvio suggests that Nedda is attracted by a settled-down petty-bourgeois life–not our standard picture of the ganzo, but plausibly presented. Carlin has a nice specificity as both Beppe and Arlecchino.

“The widest credibility gap comes with the most extravagantly gifted mummer, Gobbi. He contrives detailed pantomimic modeling, then tries to cram it in amongst the musical cues. It’s inventive, but believable only in small bits of business, like handing Colombina a prop in the wings. It is also stubbornly separated from the often compelling Tonio described by the voice. Watch Micheluzzi receiving Silvio’s pleas–that’s good acting. Now watch Gobbi leaping and hand-signing his. That’s not.

“Musically, the performance is dominated by Corelli. At the outset there are touches of the tremulous vibrato that characterized his earliest singing, but once into the meat of the role he offers free, robust tone and a clean, firm line that carries a lucid projection of the language. Caruso’s sumptuous singing and filled-to-bursting emotionality remain unique in the arias, but among the complete Canios left us, only Gigli really rivals this.

“Gobbi is also in good voice. We must still cope with the straight, hollow sound of his top, but the solidity and timbral burr are welcome. Micheluzzi is stylistically secure and always apt dramatically; her sound, though, is rather scrappy, and at some places she claws her way to the top with more grit than grace. Carlin makes every one of Arlecchino’s points in his strong character tenor, with its oddly shaded chiaroscuro. Puglisi, unfortunately, barely lugs his darkly weighted baritone through Silvio’s altitudinous tessitura.

“The orchestral playing is above the RAI average, and Simonetto keeps the score perking; he conducts scenes and moments, not abstract phrases. Though the chorus (under La Scala’s Roberto Benaglio) is not gloriously transmitted on the sound track, it’s a full, well-balanced group. No subtitles clutter these well-composed shots.

“Recommendation: Sad but true–the closest we come to Pagliacci is this forty-plus-years-old RAI TV-movie. It has plenty of drawbacks, but is the only version with significant video-opera virtues.”

Mr. Osborne did not review Bel Canto Society’s other Pagliaccis.

This is my favorite of the films that Corelli made for Italian TV. No other tenor has his physicality in this role. He broods and seems dangerous, like no other Canio. He was born for verismo, with its centralized tessitura. In “La commedia è finita,” after a good deal of tremendously impassioned singing, his speaking voice is oddly sweet and boyish.

He himself does not like his sound on this tape because he sometimes has a conspicuous fast vibrato, which he strove, successfully, to eliminate. Such immediate predecessors as Merli and Pertile had similar vibratos and no one in Italy minded. (Indeed, Italians preferred such vibratos to la voce fissa, a “fixed” or “held” tone à la Martinelli.)

Micheluzzi is a real find, at times a little bit reminiscent of Muzio. Gobbi offers fabulous variety of shading. The music is phrased with sensual ebb and flow of dynamics, thanks to Simonetto.– Stefan Zucker