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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raiders Of the Lost Operas: I Medici

One of the most compelling CD releases of this summer is the complete recording of Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera I Medici, released in June on Deutsche Grammophon.
Giuliano di Medici, pre-massacre.

Leoncavallo is remembered today for two things: writing Pagliacci and composing the unpopular version of La bohéme which was eclipsed by Puccini's version. I Medici (written before Pagliacci but premiered after its success) was bid for recognition as a serious, Wagner-style composer.

It was to be the first part of Crepusculum, ("Twilight") a projected trilogy that would do for Italian history what Wagner's gods and Valkyries did for German myths. Later operas were to focus on the fanatic Savanarola and Cesare Borgia. But when I Medici bombed, Leoncavallo set Crepusculum aside for other projects.

What's left of the trilogy is a pleasing work, very much in the vein of "later" Verdi like Simon Boccanegra with an occasional tinge of the dark shadows of Don Carlos. The story is concerned with the Medici family, and the passion of Giuliano (Placído Domingo) for Simonetta (Daniela Dessi). The plot, (much like Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani) focuses on a knives-out massacre that is carried out in broad daylight. Its victim is Giuliano, who dies but is survived by his more famous brother: Lorenzo di Medici (Carlos Álvarez).

This fascinating recording was made three years ago, and is issued as part of Alberto Veronese's ongoing series on DG exploring the "lost" operas of the verismo period. Placído Domingo was 70 when he recorded this, and sounds in fine, burly voice as he adds yet another notch to his belt. He gives a compelling performance as Giuliano di Medici. Daniela Dessi is blowzy and a little raw as Simonetta, but she fits the role well. Carlos Álvarez is compelling as Lorenzo. The singers are anchored by a strong chorus that digs into this music with genuine enthusiasm, producing some extraordinary effects in this very "public" drama.

Although Fedora is planned as the next opera in this series for a 2011 release, one wishes that Mr. Veronesi would dig up the rest of Crepesculum and let Leoncavalo's magnum opus stand in the light which it so richly deserves. This is a "must" acquisition for fans of Mr. Domingo and lovers of Italian opera.

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