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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor - opera seria in Prologue and Two Acts (1835)
Lucia Ashton - Désirée Rancatore (sop); Sir Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood - Roberto De Basio (ten); Lord Enrico Ashton, Lucia’s brother - Luca Grassi (bar); Raimondo, Lucia’s tutor and adviser - Enrico Giuseppe Lori (bass); Lord Arturo Bucklaw, wealthy suitor of Lucia - Matteo Barca (ten); Alisa, Lucia’s companion - Tiziano Falco (mezzo); Normanno, an acolyte of Enrico - Vincenzo Maria Sarinelli (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Donizetti Musical Festival of Bergamo/Antonio Fogliani
rec. live, Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, Italy. October 2006
Director and Costume designer: Francesco Esposito. Set designer: Italo Grassi
Filmed in High Definition. Presented in dts digital surround sound, Dolby, PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese.
Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German, Italian, French
DYNAMIC 33535 [143:00]



The success of Anna Bolena in Milan 1830 and L’Elisir d’Amore (1832) marked Donizetti out as a leading contender 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 his own country; even in Naples where he was musical director of the Royal Theatres, and in Milan. 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. 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 du Légion d’Honneur, which further 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 28 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. It was scheduled for May 1835. Despite Donizetti’s position, and his also being professor at the Conservatorium, the inefficient San Carlo management, in financial crisis, failed to get the story cleared by the censor and no libretto was commissioned. Consequently the premiere was delayed until 26 September when the it was received with acclaim. 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 and followed this with three operas in French, including two for the Paris Opéra itself and one for the Opéra Comique.
 
The story of Lucia di Lamermoor is bleak and Cammarano’s libretto is taut, clear and concise. It draws from Donizetti a parallel tautness of construction in which the music consistently serves the drama. It also draws from him a prodigality of melodic invention. The story involves a fiery bullying brother, Enrico, who is prepared to sacrifice his sister, still grieving from the death of their mother, to a marriage of his choosing. His choice of groom is Lord Arturo; a wealthy noble whom he hopes will save his own precarious financial position. The marriage is violently against Lucia’s wishes as she is in love with her brother’s sworn enemy Edgardo, with whom she has pledged mutual fidelity. Enrico produces a false letter indicating Edgardo’s faithlessness and after bullying her tutor and adviser into support, has Lucia sign the marriage contract. During the wedding celebrations Edgardo arrives. Believing Lucia to be unfaithful to their mutual promise he demands the return of the token he gave her, flinging the reciprocal one at her. Lucia is distraught and on retiring to the nuptial bed she stabs and kills her groom. She returns to the celebrations for one of the greatest mad scenes in opera, involving coloratura vocal flights with flute obbligato, that epitomise bel canto (Act 1 CH. 5). Lucia dies in a final scene and Edgardo stabs himself. This scene is dominated by Edgardo’s double aria preceded by the recitative Tombe degli avi mei (Tombs of my ancestors CHs 6-7).
 
Lucia was the vehicle made famous by Callas and provided the launching on the world of the spectacular coloratura singing of Joan Sutherland who became known, first in Italy, as ‘La Stupenda’. This was at London’s Covent Garden premiered on 17 February 1959. I didn’t get to hear her in that production and role until ten years or so later. At the end of the mad scene, Lucia collapses with her hands and night attire covered in her husband’s blood. Sutherland was on form and the audience went wild with many bouquets being thrown from all parts of the house. After this over-the-top show of loyalty and adoration many people left. Little did they realise that the young open-throated Italian tenor who was to sing the most elegant last scene of Lucia that I have ever heard in the theatre, would go on to a mega career. His name was Pavarotti.
 
The sets for this production from the Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo, Italy in October 2006 match the story for bleakness. Black and white predominate. In the prologue a leafless frosted tree dominates the meetings, with snow falling as Lucia sings Ancor non giunse (Prologue CH 4). In act one the celebrations of the wedding have minimal sets of a couple of tables, one with candelabra and an open-sided staircase used both by the chorus and Lucia as she returns from murdering her husband. An added backdrop shows the false letter used to convince Lucia of Edgardo’s desertion. The final scene has a mini coup-de-théâtre as the chorus part to reveal Lucia dead below the tree as red petal snowflakes fall to surround her lifeless body - very effective. For the rest, the production is simple and straightforward. Fortunately there are no concepts or extraneous effects or personages that Donizetti might have struggled to recognise. The camera-work focuses on the action with varying and generally movement between close-up, mid and full-stage shots. The costumes are on the dark side and can be seen as appropriate as to the venue and time of the story.
 
The cast is more Italian provincial than first division. Désirée Rancatore as Lucia has sung at La Scala, appearing in Muti’s idiosyncratic choice of opera for the theatre’s reopening in December 2004. She also appears as Olympia in Dynamic’s DVD recording of Les Contes d’Hoffmann from the Arena Macerata, in August 2004. There I found her singing of Les oiseaux dans la charmille excellent with the climactic note hit dead-centre. In this performance of her first Lucia her coloratura singing in the mad scene is equally accurate finely matching the flute obbligato. She is though more tentative in her acting than as Olympia, particularly in the mad scene when she has to descend the narrowish stairs with a long blood coloured train behind her. It would certainly have given me a touch of vertigo. Her tone is creamy and maybe venturing towards the lyric soprano fach but in the opening scene with her companion Alisa she is not as steady as I would have hoped. That being said, and although her acting is too tentative, she sings the notes accurately and with conviction if not with a great deal of characterisation. As her suitor Edgardo, Roberto De Basio shows a voice of much promise. It has a pleasing timbre and he makes efforts at expression and singing mezza and sotto voce when appropriate. His phrasing is also pleasing to my ear, and if not as graceful as the young Pavarotti, found favour with the Bergamo audience. As the evil Enrico, Luca Grassi struts the stage with a constant glower as befits the nasty piece of work being portrayed. Vocally, however, he sings with a tedious monochrome and little effort at characterisation in his acting to match the glower. Enrico Giuseppe Lori as Raimondi on the other hand acts well and together with his warm-toned singing combines to make Raimondo a more sympathetic character than he often comes across in many productions. The chorus are not required to do very much but do sing with good Italianate squilla. On the rostrum Antonio Fogliani concentrates on supporting his singers and the plain straightforward interpretation of production and staging.
 
The accompanying booklet has a good introductory essay and synopsis in four languages together with some black and white photos of the singers. An idiosyncrasy is the numbering of the Chapters. The prologue and each act start at number 1.
 
Robert J Farr
 



 


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