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CD: Crotchet


Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)
Beverly 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 Emilio Martini
rec. live, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, 4 July 1972
Experience Classicsonline

Live 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
This 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.
In 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.
The 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.
Alfredo 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.
There 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 roles.
Göran Forsling


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