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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucie de Lammermoor - French version in three acts (1839)
Lucie Ashton - Patricia Ciofi (soprano); Edgard Ravenswood - Roberto Alagna (tenor); Henri Ashton, Luce’s brother - Ludovic Tezier (baritone); Raymond, Lucia’s tutor and adviser – Nicolas Cavallier (bass); Arthur Bucklaw, wealthy suitor of Lucia – Marc Laho (tenor); Gilbert, an acolyte of Henri - Yves Saelens (baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon/Evelino Pido
rec. live, Opéra National de Lyon, France, January 2006
Directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser.
Set designer: Christian Fenouillat.
Costume designer: Agostino Cavalca.
TV and Video director: Don Kent
Sound format: DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo; Picture format: 16:9 PAL
Introductory essay: English, German, French
Subtitles: French (original language), Italian, English, German, Spanish
TDK DVD VIDEO DV-OPLDLM [145:00]

The success of Anna Bolena (1830) and L’Elisir d’Amore (1832) marked Donizetti out as a leading contender, with Bellini, for the pre-eminent position among Italian opera composers. He went to Paris in 1835, at Rossini’s invitation, to present his opera Marino Faliero at the Théâtre Italien. This visit introduced him to the ‘Grand Opera’ style of Meyerbeer and Halévy. Donizetti also discovered, as other Italian predecessors had done, the significantly higher musical and theatrical standards that existed in Paris compared with their own country; even in Milan and in Naples where he was musical director of the Royal Theatres. Equally appealing to a composer, who had to write and present three or four new works each year to maintain a decent living, was the superior financial remuneration for work in Paris. His opera Marino Faliero was premiered in Paris in March 1835. It was rather overshadowed by Bellini’s I Puritani premiered at the same theatre a couple of months before. Both operas featured four of the greatest singers of the day in Giulia Grisi, Giovanna Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache. Whilst in Paris, Donizetti was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, which indicated his prestige in musical circles. 

With his opera neither a failure nor a raging success in Paris, Donizetti returned to Italy and presented Lucia di Lamermoor in Naples on 26 September 1835. This was a huge and immediate success. To this day it remains the composer’s most popular serious, as distinct from comic, opera and is widely considered a foundation stone of Italian Romanticism. With the premature death of Bellini shortly before Lucia’s premiere, and Rossini’s retirement from operatic composition, Donizetti was elevated to a pre-eminent position among his contemporaries. Based on Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lamermoor (1819), Lucia was Donizetti’s 47th opera. It was the first of three he was contracted to compose for Naples’ Royal Theatres and it was scheduled for May 1835. Financial troubles and management inefficiency at the San Carlo, whose management failed to get the story cleared by the censor and a libretto commissioned, delayed the premiere until 26 September when the work was received with acclaim. Increasingly irritated by the working conditions in Naples and the restrictions imposed by the censor, Donizetti’s thoughts turned increasingly to Paris. He returned there in 1839 to present a simplified French version of Lucia at the Théâtre de Renaissance. He followed this with three operas in French, including two for the Paris Opéra itself and one for the Opéra Comique. 

The Théâtre de Renaissance was a privately run enterprise operating on a restricted budget. This may have contributed to the conflation of the original Italian version and with it a reduction in the requirement for sets. This was done under Donizetti’s supervision. There are fewer characters compared to the Italian original with Lucie’s maid, Alisa, omitted altogether, leaving Lucie the only woman in the opera; a woman bereft of power in the face of a gang of brutes. The cynical and villainous Gilbert is the equivalent of Normanno, but willing to play a more devious part for anybody who would cross his palm with money. There are other major musical differences with the Italian original. These are particularly noticeable in the reduction of the role of Raymond, whilst Arthur benefits by greater involvement, his status as a rival to Edgar being enhanced by his presence from act one. Omitted from this French version are the act two prelude with harp, the storm and Edgardo’s recitative which had begun act three. Lucia’s cavatina Regnava nel silenzio from act one is replaced with a cavatina and cabaletta from Rosmondo d’Inghiliterra, a practice seen in Italian theatres shortly after the premiere in Naples. Gone also is Lucy’s scene with Raimondo in act two. Raimond’s contribution is reduced significantly. If it had been removed altogether it would have meant the rewriting of the sextet. Whilst the orchestration remains the same for the comparative scenes, for reasons of prosody the vocal lines were retouched. The copied ring used to convince Lucie, falsely, of Edgard’s faithlessness is an invention of the French version. 

Both the 1839 French version - together with other minor modifications when the work was put on at the Paris Opéra in 1846 - and the original Italian version were put on in parallel in France until the end of the nineteenth century. After this the former was abandoned and disappeared from the publisher’s lists. No autograph manuscript has so far emerged. This edition for Casa Ricordi was realised by Jacques Chalmeu in 2000 for the Lyon production. It has been reconstituted from the individual band parts preserved in the library of the Paris Opéra, its premiere being at Lyon in the performances from which this recording was made in January 2002. Patricia Ciofi’s ornamentations are her own and differ from those of the lighter-voiced Natalie Dessay who sings the role on the parallel CD version recorded 23-28 January 2002 (Virgin Classics 7243 45528 3). 

This Lyon production by the duo of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser has none of the colourful touches that they bring to their Rossini. There is the rub; this is more a TV presentation of an opera staging, than a DVD of an opera on-stage. The video director takes a cinematographic approach with the focus being on the faces of the singers. In fact it could easily provide the basis for a study in tonsils, or at least in the physical demands of an opera singer’s art. I do not know if this decision was influenced by what seems, in the little one catches sight of, to be a very dark and foreboding set. Unlike many opera productions seen currently on DVD, there is no view of the whole stage let alone the proscenium. Such an approach may be more valid in the straight theatre, when the actors are fully involved bodily, whether speaking or not. As opera-goers know, this is frequently not the case with singers who often find trouble getting their faces to express any emotion or involvement when actually singing and often seem wholly divorced from the proceedings when not doing so. This is a significant drawback to Ludovic Tezier’s Henri Ashton and Roberto Alagna’s Edgard. Tezier’s singing is strong, well-focused and with a wide palette of colour and emotional expression. His bodily involvement is fine although his facial expression and particularly his eyes are relatively uninvolved and bland in the frequent close-ups. The same is true of Alagna, whose singing is altogether better than in his performances of Italian operas such as is evidenced in his Il Trovatore (review) and Verdi Arias (review). If he does not quite caress the phrases in the Tomb scene (Ch.32) like Pavarotti or Bergonzi, at least he sings with expression and no little vocal grace and legato. The confrontation duet between Edgard and Ashton brings thrilling singing from the pair (Chs.24-25). In the much-reduced role of Raymond, Nicolas Cavallier sings strongly with tightly focused tone. He acts well as does Marc Laho in the significantly enlarged role of Arthur Bucklaw. As Gilbert, new in the French version and an Iago-like figure, Yves Saelens is rather dry toned but suitably malevolent in his acting and facial expression. The chorus is excellent in their articulation of the text and expression. This can be heard whether it be as rousing huntsmen (Ch.7) or poignantly at the return of Lucie to the wedding celebrations having stabbed her new husband (Ch.13).

I have not yet mentioned the eponymous heroine-cum-tragic-victim of the machinations of men. In this French version Lucie is the only female principal and consequently more responsibility is thrust on her shoulders. Patrizia Ciofi is wholly convincing. She is an actress as well as a singer. Her bodily involvement in her portrayal is exhibited in every sinew. With this video director’s approach, you see the lot as Ciofi lives every emotion of the mad scene (Chs.31-33). As far as I know no visual recording of Callas as Lucia exists. If it did I would imagine her portrayal to be as involved as Ciofi’s, but with more vocal flaws. Ciofi’s singing is not flawless and she chooses demanding ornaments, but it is completely and utterly involving and convincing with the visual warts of her physical efforts adding to the gripping situation. I saw Sutherland in her pomp in the famous Covent Garden production. She sang wonderfully and the flowers rained down, but she did not move me as Ciofi does in this production. 

Evelino Pido on the rostrum supports his singers well and I detected none of the sloppy ensemble evident on occasions in the audio recording that features Natalie Dessay as a lighter-toned Lucie instead of Ciofi. Although there is no tartan around, the rather dark set - as far as the video director permits it to be shown - and the costumes, are appropriate to the setting and period. There are cinema-type effects during the entr’actes with what look like night-vision pictures (Ch.22) which will not have been seen in the theatre.

Robert J Farr

 


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