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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor - opera seria in three acts
Libretto by Salvatore Cammerano based on the novel ĎThe Bride of Lammermoorí by Sir Walter Scott.
First produced at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples on 26th September 1835.
Lucia, Maria Callas (sop); Edgardo, Giuseppe Di Stefano (ten); Enrico, Tito Gobbi (bar); Raimondo, Raffaele Arie (bass); Arturo, Valiano Natali (ten); Alisa, Anna Maria Canali (mez); Normanno, Gino Sam (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Tullio Serafin
Recorded 29th and 30th January and 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th February 1953 in the Teatro Comunale, Florence
Appendices. Highlights from Lucia di Lammermoor performed by Legendary Singers. Recorded 1910-1952
Cruda, funesta smania ..Il tuo dubbio e omai certezza ..La pietade in suo favore. Robert Merrill, (bar); Ezio Pinza, (bass); Luigi Vellucci, Tenor
Recorded 8th March 1952
Ah, talor del tuo pensiero..Verranno a te sull'aure. Amelita Galli-Curci, (sop); Tito Schipa, (ten)
Recorded 7th September 1928
Chi mi frena in tal momenta (sextet) Maria Barrientos, (sop); Charles Hackett, (ten); Riccardo Stracciari, (bar); Jose Mardones, (bass); George Meader, (ten); Emma Noe, (sop);
Recorded 18th March 1920 in New York
Dalle stanze ove Lucia. Ezio Pinza, Bass
Recorded llth July 1923 in Milan
[Ardon gli incensi:] splendon Ie sacrefaci Spargi d' amaro pianto. Toti Dal Monte, Soprano
Recorded 28th October and *5th November 1926
Tombe degli avi mieiÖFra poco a me ricovero.. Beniamino Gigli, (ten)
Recorded 10th April 1925 (Take unpublished on 78 rpm).
Tu che a Dio spiegasti I'ali. John McCormack, (ten)
Recorded 23rd March 1910 in New York
Reissue Producer and Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS HISTORICAL - GREAT OPERA RECORDINGS 8.110131-32 [69.01 + 78.28]


Maria Callas broke through to international recognition singing Norma in South America in 1949. In September of that year Cetra issued her first recordings. Derived from radio broadcasts they included the aria Casta Diva from Norma. Whilst Norma was to be her calling card at Covent Garden, La Scala and the Met, it was her portrayal of Lucia that caused waves round the operatic establishments in the early 1950s. Callasís burgeoning reputation induced Walter Legge, head of Artist and Repertoire at the London-based Columbia label (Angel in the USA) to sign her to an exclusive contract in July 1952. However, Callas was already contracted to record three operas for Cetra. Only two, La Traviata and La Gioconda were ever made, both in September 1952. Violetta in La Traviata was one of Callasís defining roles, even before the renowned Visconti production conducted by Giulini at La Scala of 1955. Deprived of her Violetta, Legge hurried Callas into the studios for her other crucial roles: Lucia, Tosca and Norma. All were recorded in little over a year together with Elvira in I Puritani and Santuzza from Cavalleria Rusticana.

The Columbia contract was intended to combine the use of La Scala together with its august orchestra and chorus. This did not prove possible for three of the first five operas because the recording sessions were scheduled during the theatre season. This Lucia, the very first in the series, was recorded in the Teatro Communale in Florence, a friendlier recording acoustic than the ever-problematic La Scala. The orchestral and choral forces are under the eloquent baton of Callasís guide and mentor Tullio Serafin. He had prepared Rosa Ponselle in 1927 as well as Callas for their debuts in the role, and in 1959 he did likewise for Joan Sutherland for her memorable performances at Covent Garden. It was Serafin who persuaded Callas to encompass the bel canto repertoire into her own. He did this at a time when she seemed to be heading towards Wagner (Kundry, Isolde and Brünnhilde) and the heavier Italian roles (Turandot), all of which she had sung in the theatre. Although much is made of Callasís contribution to the so-called bel canto revival, it owes as much to Serafinís work with her and others. He had the idiom in his bones as is well illustrated in this recording, and elsewhere on disc. It is evidenced in many ways including his pacing and support for the singers and the moving forward of the drama. In this recording the Florentine chorus may lack the ultimate vibrancy of their La Scala counterparts but they are not far short.

Legge signed Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi as a core triumvirate with Callas for many of the recordings that Columbia were to set down over the next seven or so years. Both make outstanding contributions to the success of this issue. Gobbi with his incisive biting tone is a suitably bullying Edgardo. The listener can easily imagine his young sister, still grieving for her mother, being cowed and browbeaten by him as he seeks to have her marry a rich nobleman and thus stabilise his precarious finances (CD 1 trs. 15-20). As Luciaís lover, Enrico, Di Stefano gives one of his best performances in the series of Callas collaborations. Not a natural in the bel canto repertoire he subjugates his own inclinations and sings with well-supported tone and elegant phrasing. He is ardent in his declaration of love (CD 1 trs. 13-14) and both agonising and tragic in the final scene as he hears of Luciaís death and then stabs himself (CD 2 trs. 10-12). Throughout his diction is good, he never forces his tone and his voice is free and ringing in climaxes.

Callasís performances of Lucia in Italy in 1952 were described as revelatory. Donizetti wrote the part specifically for the roleís creator Fanny Tacchardi, the wife of a rival composer Giuseppe Persiani. Tacchardiís flexible voice and capacity in florid singing was renowned. Callasís interpretation is utterly different from Sutherlandís who glories in full-toned flexible singing, with emotions and words coming second. Callas concentrates on the words and the evolution of the unfolding drama. She uses a great variety of colour and tone to portray Luciaís various situations, emotions and ultimate madness. In the Mad Scene (CD 2 trs. 6-9) she goes through her full repertoire starting with covered, even occluded, half-voice and then moving, via a high girlish tone, into full spinto richness and then clear-toned coloratura with pin-point accuracy and a pure concluding high E flat that runs down my spine. In the totality of her interpretation there are times when a slight tonal unevenness between the registers is evident, but unlike in the 1959 stereo remake Callasís voice does her bidding here.

The Raimondo of Raffaele Arie is a serious weakness. He has neither the sonority, weight of tone nor range of expression that the part requires. Pinza, in the extensive appendices (tr. 13) is an exemplar of how the part should be sung. These appendices are wholly enjoyable although the sextet (tr. 15) has no great distinction. I suspect this version was included because other more glamorously cast versions involving Caruso and Gigli have appeared on complete collections of their 78s. The appendices are extensive because of the cuts made in the score. At 110 minutes this performance is 30 minutes less than Sutherlandís second version (Decca), which is similar in timing to the version with Cheryl Studer in the title role, and Placido Domingo as Edgardo (DG).

Whilst Mark Obert-Thorn has worked his usual miracles to give a well-balanced and easy-on-the ear sound, even he cannot obviate some overload distortion present on the master tapes. The booklet has a brief essay and artist biographies by Michael Scott. There is also an excellent track-related synopsis as well as a detailed track listing. Although this was Callasís first recording under her new Columbia contract it was not issued until a year later and after I Puritani (No. 2 in the sequence) in November 1953, and Tosca (No. 4) the following month. In contemporaneous correspondence Walter Legge stated that he wanted to rush out the Tosca for the Christmas market, as it was such a dynamic performance. Yet, in an obituary notice for Callas he claimed this Lucia to be her outstanding studio recording! Maybe the fact that it was not recorded with the La Scala forces, and therefore did not carry that imprimatur, was an influence.

Today, for a very modest price, all lovers of bel canto operas and their performance on record can listen and make their own judgement on what was, without doubt, a seminal recording of the genre. For me this is Callasís finest recording in terms of interpretation allied to security of singing and this re-mastering accords it full justice.

Robert J Farr



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