DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)
Sills (soprano) – Lucia; Alfredo Kraus (tenor) – Edgardo;
Gian-Piero Mastromei (baritone) – Enrico; José Nait (tenor) – Arturo;
Victor de Narké (bass) – Raimondo; Lydia de la Merced
(mezzo-soprano) – Alica; Horacio Mastrango (tenor) – Normanno;
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires/Juan
rec. live, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, 4 July 1972 WEST
HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6013 [65:17 + 71:20]
recordings with great singers in favourite roles are always
interesting, provided they are on good form and the sound
is at least acceptable. On the present Lucia di Lammermoor Beverly
Sills and Alfredo Kraus are heard at a time when they were
still at the – more or less – height of their powers. The
recording is a great deal more than just acceptable.
two singers recorded their roles on commercial studio recordings,
Sills with Bergonzi and Cappuccilli under Thomas Schippers
in 1970 for ABC Records, released in Europe by EMI and
now distributed on the Westminster label by Deutsche Grammophon;
Kraus with Gruberova and Bruson under Nicola Rescigno in
1983 for EMI. Both recordings have long been among my favourite
versions. Hearing them together with the extra excitement
a live performance conveys is truly fascinating.
recording of the orchestra and chorus is splendid for its
age with good stereo spread and depth. The balance is not
impeccable: the harp in the scene 2 prelude is a bit faint
but fully audible. What comes through from the very first
bars is the excellent playing of the orchestra. Listen
to the wind, especially the French horns, at the beginning
of the prelude. And the chorus, in the male as well as
the female departments, is a fine body. Maestro Martini
has a firm grasp of the proceedings, favouring sometimes
brisk tempos – Quanto rapito in estasi (CD 1 tr.
10) is one such instance – and there is rhythmic vitality,
not least in the chorus opening act II and the festive
music in act III scene 2.
main drawback is the distant recording of the solo voices.
By turning up the volume considerably – my normal setting
is 12, I needed 18 to get the voices in focus – it is possible
to compensate but then the orchestra becomes unsocial. I
can handle that for myself but to avoid my wife fleeing
up into the attic every now and then I had to turn down
the volume every time there was an orchestral tutti.
is however no big deal and one is richly awarded. In the
home-grown supporting cast José Nait is a good Arturo
and Victor de Narké’s sonorous bass – though not free from
strain – makes him a Raimondo to reckon with. Also home-grown
but with an important international career is Gian-Piero
Mastromei, who is a fresh voiced and sturdy Enrico, not
in the Bruson or Cappuccilli class but more than a match
for some other baritones.
the 1970s the Lucia lovers were largely divided in two
camps: Sutherland admirers and Sills fans. I belonged to
the Sutherland troop, having very early acquired her 1950s
recital with Nello Santi and later her first complete Lucia.
Sills, whom I at the time knew from a French recital, I
found thin and wiry compared to the more plushy Sutherland
sound. But when I first heard her Lucia, her rich characterisation
and expressive enunciation I thought Sutherland bland by
comparison and went over to the Sills camp, where I have
remained. Gruberova’s more middle-of-the-road approach
is nowadays a worthy alternative.
Sills recording, made a year and a half before the Buenos
Aires performances, still makes a deep impression, whenever
I hear it, and it also has a special value in the use of
the original glass harmonica in the mad scene. In Buenos
Aires she had to make do with the outstanding flautist
Alfredo Iannelli and their collaboration is a true highspot
of this recording. Her ‘extemporizations’ in this scene
are by the way from 19th century manuscripts
that Ms Sills found in the archives of Teatro Alla Scala
in Milan. But even though this is virtuoso singing of the
utmost technical brilliance it is most of all the sense
of a real character, desperate and vulnerable beyond the
limits of sanity that makes her reading so heartrending.
It’s the inwardness and otherworldly bewilderment that
feels so real.
Kraus had a very long career, having made his debut in
1956 as the Duke in Rigoletto and being active as
late as 1998, the year before he died, aged 71. One secret
with his longevity as a singer was no doubt his discriminating
choice of roles. His voice was rather small but extremely
expressive and well focused and he only accepted roles
that were within his scope – nothing that would overstrain
him. Puritani, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Don Pasquale,
La Favorita, La fille du Regiment, Lucia, Faust, Romeo
et Juliette, Manon, Werther, Hoffmann, Rigoletto and Traviata were
those he returned to and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor was
one of the most frequent.
The inveterate collector of Krausiana
Karl-Heinz Fuhrberg, whom I know since we met at a Jussi
Björling congress about eighteen months ago, has at the
moment 63 CD and 5 DVD recordings with Kraus in this role,
the earliest from Barcelona 1958 the latest from Zürich
1998. Unfortunately he wasn’t really discovered by the
recording companies until he was past fifty. A couple of Rigolettos,
one with Gavazzenni with Scotto and Bastianini and the
other with Solti and Moffo and Merrill, a Falstaff, also
with Solti, and Cosi fan tutte – an opera he never
sang in on stage – with Karl Böhm – those are to my knowledge
the only recordings from his relative youth. Add to this
a recital from 1955-56, which is the sound track from the
film Gayarre, about the great Spanish 19th century
tenor. There he is at his freshest. In Buenos Aires in
1972 he was already 45 and the voice, though never one
of the sappiest, is a bit drier than a decade earlier,
but compared to for example the Lucia from 1983
the difference is marginal. What is noticeable here is
how weak he sounds in relation to Mastromei and Sills.
But he is his usual stylish self, singing with taste and
exemplary phrasing and in the final scene he is as superb
as ever. Only Bergonzi on the Sills set – and on an earlier
RCA recording with Moffo – is anywhere near.
are gratifyingly few stage noises but the enthusiastic
audience clap and shout whenever there is an opportunity,
even beginning before some numbers are finished. Admirers
of Sills and/or Kraus won’t be deterred by that and even
though the singers are too distant for true comfort, the
general quality of this issue is so good that it can be
appreciated by others than specialist collectors. Few singers
in recorded history have been deeper into their respective
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