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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Recorded 10th April 1925 (Take unpublished on 78 rpm).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 8.11031-32 [69.01 + 78.28] .

 

This Lucia di Lammermoor belongs to a group of recordings that Callas made for Columbia in the 1950s. These are now being re-issued by Naxos, the recordings having been cleaned up amazingly by Mark Obert-Thorn.

Though she was signed by Walter Legge, he did not actually supervise the recordings and it shows. The Norma from the same period is distressingly close-miked and this Lucia di Lammermoor has similar problems, though the general acoustic is not quite as bad. Where this Lucia gains over the Norma recording is that here Callas is supported by a fine and balanced cast, so that the whole opera works well as drama in a way that, Callas excepted, Norma does not.

It is this sense of drama which made Callasís assumption of these 19th century coloratura roles so remarkable. She combined the agility and accuracy of lighter voiced sopranos with a secure feel for the musicís innate drama. At no point do you feel that the elaborate cascades of fioriture are simple decoration. For Callas they have meaning. She has a willing partner in Giuseppe di Stefano as Edgardo. Though his ardent, frank and open-throated singing is not ideal for this music, he has a decent sense of style and line and he is responsive to Callas herself. It should not surprise us that Tito Gobbi makes a remarkably villainous Enrico. I would have liked more suaveness in his vocalism, but he convinces with his sheer commitment.

But of course, the raison díêtre for this recording is Callas. In her later recording she has a good supporting cast and both are conducted by Serafin, but in the later set Callasís voice is in less secure condition. Whilst some compensation for her vocal frailty is offered by her more intense reading of the title role, many will prefer this earlier recording where her voice was more responsive to her will. Her performance is remarkable for its accuracy. For all the inherent instability of her voice on longer notes, all the passage-work is given with laser-like clarity and with a clear feeling for the words.

Where Callas is at her best is in the mad scene. Here she has no need of a glass harmonica to induce an otherworldly atmosphere. You have only to hear her voice at the words Il dolce suono to know that Lucia is in a completely different reality, and throughout this scene her use of tone colour is astonishing.

Too often, though, Callasís insight must be balanced with vocal frailty and poor recording; this is one of the few where her intentions and the actual recorded results come closest. But for all the remarkable insights offered by her performance, there is something lacking which can only be captured live. On the theatrical stage Callas brought an emotional intensity and vividness to roles that can only be distantly captured on disc. So if you really want to know what Callas could do, then try to get hold of a copy of the 1955 live Salzburg recording, with Karajan conducting.

I must confess to being something of an agnostic when it comes to Callasís art. I can appreciate her intelligence and insights and will treasure this recording as one of her finest documents. Her singing of 19th century coloratura came as a welcome tonic to the art of performance of this tricky genre. But, for me, there is a sense that in investing every phrase with meaning and inflection, with the amazing clarity of her fioriture, something is lost. She rarely seems to relish the cascades of notes for the simple beauty of the sound; for that I will always return to Sutherland who brings to this repertoire that ability to glory in the sheer physical sound which is worlds away from Callasís approach.

As a bonus you get a series of earlier recordings of excerpts from the opera which give glimpses of how performance styles have changed over the years. Ezio Pinza gives us two glimpses of his noble Raimondo and Robert Merrill is a suave Enrico. Gigli sings Enricoís music with a good sense of line but distorts it with unsightly bulges which would be more at home in Puccini; John McCormack, however, displays his wonderful sense of line.

The version of the septet included here includes few big names, but better versions can be heard on other Naxos historical discs. This septet recording suffers from a familiar problem of these early recordings; the soprano voices sound pale and white and contrast alarmingly with the vividly recording male voices. So the popularity of Amelita Galli-Curciís discs is quite understandable when you compare her recorded voice to that of Maria Barrientos on the septet; Galli-Curci was lucky, the primitive recording process seemed to like her voice and in her duet with Tito Schipa both voices are vivid. Galli-Curci and Schipa sing the music with a lovely lyric grace as does Toti Dal Monte in her mad scene. But for both sopranos, the coloratura is elegant decoration. Beautifully sung as it is, neither soprano gives us a real Lucia; they simply give us a theatrical convention. It is to Callas that we must turn if we want a flesh and blood heroine, vocal frailties and all.

But now that this recording is available at budget price you no longer have to make the awkward decision about which recording to buy. Donít hesitate: £10 invested in this set is money wisely invested in one of the major documents of singing in the 20th century.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Robert Farr

 



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