The success of Anna Bolena
in Milan (1830) and L’Elisir d’Amore
(1832) marked Donizetti out as a leading contender, alongside Bellini, for the pre-eminent position among active Italian opera composers. At Rossini’s invitation he went to Paris in 1835 and presented his opera Marino Faliero
at the Théâtre Italien. There he also discovered, as other Italian predecessors including Rossini had done, the significantly higher musical and theatrical standards that existed in Paris compared with their own country, even in Naples and Milan with their professional orchestras. 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 Falier
o was premiered in March 1835. Whilst in Paris, Donizetti was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, which further indicated his prestige in musical circles.
Donizetti returned to Italy and presented Lucia di Lamermoor
in Naples on 26 September. 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. Based on Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor
of 1819, Lucia
was Donizetti’s 47th
opera and the first of three he was contracted to compose for Naples’ Royal Theatres. It was originally scheduled for May 1835, but by then the San Carlo was in dire financial straits and an administrative nightmare. Despite Donizetti’s position as Director of the Royal Theatres and being professor at the Conservatorium, the San Carlo management, in financial crisis and inefficient, failed to get the story cleared by the censor and a libretto commissioned. Consequently the premiere was delayed until 26 September when the opera was received with acclaim.
Lucia’s success was unbounded in Italy with performances throughout the peninsula including La Scala. As was the practice with such performances the singers, particularly the sopranos, would often demand changes involving pitch or extra items so as to show off their vocal strengths, or cover their deficiencies. Consequently there are a number of different editions of the score represented among the many recordings of this most popular of Donizetti’s operas. The Philips recording (2 CDs 426563-2) under Lopez-Cobos, with Caballé as Lucia, claims to perform the score exactly as it appears in the autograph with the original tonalities employed. That is, according to Ashbrook (Donizetti and his Operas
CUP 1983 p.376), Lucia’s aria di sortita
is in A, and the mad scene in F. As Ashbrook further points out, that ignores the practise of the day by which the composer wrote a cadenza for the end of the mad scene knowing the soprano creator was capable of extending it with infinite variations. Ashbrook also in his notes (p.687) states that whilst the Philips booklet indicated some of the restorations a full account must await the appearance of the new edition Lopez-Cobos is preparing for Ricordi.
I recount this because this Sony issue claims, rather too concisely for full understanding, that the Edition used for this recording is from the Original Manuscript
and edited by Sir Charles Mackerras the conductor of the performance. He certainly sticks to the manuscript performed at the premiere in respect of the flute obbligato for the Mad Scene
(CD 2 Trs.5-6). Donizetti originally wanted a glass harmonica but this was not possible. Uniquely among recordings of this work Mackerras uses a period band. This is tuned at A=430Hz which has a significant impact on tonalities that will be heard by the discerning.
After Sony took over CBS recordings, they set about rapidly building their own diverse catalogue using a mixture of live recordings and those made in the studio. In a way they came in too late in the CD evolution and although they built up an enviably diverse catalogue many of the leading singers of the various roles involved had already committed their interpretations to disc and often were tied by restrictive contracts. This was perhaps influential with the casting of this recording of Lucia
with the singing cast comprising one young Hungarian and a North American as the lovers of the story and assorted English and Welsh in the other roles; not a native born Italian speaker among them. In the eponymous role the Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost is distinctly in the leggiero tradition of light flexible voices. She had made her debut whilst a student in Budapest in 1989 and by 1991 she was on the roster at the Vienna State Opera where she sang Zerlina (Don Giovanni
), Adina (L’Elisir d’amore
), Lucia and Violetta (La Traviata
). She debuted at La Scala as Gilda (Rigoletto
) under Muti in 1994 and featured as Pamina (Magic Flute
) on the opening night in 1995. She also sang Susanna (Marriage of Figaro
) and Violetta there. All these roles are typical staples of her voice type. Her voice is not particularly Italianate and to my ears an already thinnish tone becomes even more so in the coloratura of the Mad Scene (CD 2 trs.5-6) and despite her impressive flexibility she fails to convey Lucia as a character.
Bruce Ford who has many recordings under his belt in the bel canto
repertoire for the Opera Rara label is his usual dependable self, singing ardently and expressively but not with a particularly appealing or mellifluous Italianate tone. What I am hoping to hear is respect of well covered tone, expressive singing and portrayal of character comes best from Anthony Michaels-Moore as the bullying brother who destroys Lucia as he seeks to marry her off so as to save his own financial position. His duet of confrontation with Ford’s Edgardo in the Wolf Glen scene
brings the best out of the latter and is a highlight of the performance (CD 2 trs.7-9). Alastair Miles sings with taste and elegant phrasing to convey something of the sympathy of Raimondo for Lucia’s plight whilst lacking some vocal sonority. Paul Charles Clarke and Ryland Davies sing well in their cameo roles.
In terms of bargain price level this version is up against Sutherland’s first recording (1960), where she is in particularly fresh voice (Double Decca 460 747-2), and Cheryl Studer partnered by Domingo in digital sound and who both fine their big voices down to appropriate bel canto
size (DG 459 491- 2). Sutherland’s later recording, with Pavarotti an elegantly phrased Edgardo and Milnes outstanding as Enrico has recently emerged at mid-price (see colleague’s review
). Meantime, I will wait and hope that Sony, who now encompass the RCA catalogue, will remember the 1965 Rome recording from that source with Anna Moffo as the ultimate recorded leggiero Lucia partnered by the sans-pareil Carlo Bergonzi as Edgardo.
The recording quality in this version is outstanding and well balanced. Adherents of period bands will find much to enjoy under Sir Charles Mackerras’s ever idiomatic and sympathetic baton. Purchasers should note the confusion of the track-listing for the prologue and act one. In the clearly explained track-related synopsis the prologue is denoted as Part One: The Parting
. Act one has the subtitle of Part two: The Marriage Contract
whilst act two is uncluttered by any title. This confusion is carried into the French and German translations. In all three languages the scenes of the opera are clearly denoted.
Robert J Farr