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RTÉ Lyric CD152 (2CD)
We can thank the popularity of Walter Scott’s wildly romantic novels for the popularity of Scotland as setting for 19th-century Italian operas. If you add a German dramatist in Heinrich Heine and an Irish orchestra and chorus then this highly attractive new release of Pietro Mascagni’s neglected masterpiece Guglielmo Ratcliff has a truly global provenance. The composer first started work on it as a student in Milan following an unsuccessful love affair but it got put aside. After the success of Cavalleria Rusticana, Mascagni completed it but the tenor role was so challenging that after a successful premiere and a short run the work fell into obscurity.
The hero is the spurned lover of Maria, disturbed since boyhood by an apparition of two lovers who can never have each other. Every time Maria is about to marry, her suitor gets killed – no prizes for guessing the perpetrator! The action centres on four monologues, one by Maria’s father MacGregor, two by Ratcliff himself and one by Margherita (“the mad woman of the castle”).
This Wexford Festival production under Francesco Cilluffo is a corker. Angelo Villari thrills as Ratcliff, aided by a mainly Italian solo cast with the notable exception of ex-Westminster Abbey head chorister baritone David Stout as MacGregor. Mariangela Sicilia as Maria and mezzo Annunziata Vestri (Margherita) are both superb. The opera bursts with memorable tunes and this excellent live production does full justice to Mascagni’s magnificent score.