Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)
Désirée Rancatore (soprano) - Lucia; Roberto De Biasio (tenor) - Edgardo; Luca Grassi (baritone) - Enrico; Enrico Giuseppe Iori (bass) - Raimondo; Matteo Barca (tenor) - Arturo; Tiziana Falco (mezzo) - Alisa; Vincenzo Maria Sarinelli (tenor) - Normanno; Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Antonio Fogliani
rec. live, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 14, 16 October 2006
The Italian libretto may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660255.htm
NAXOS 8.660255-56 [62:33 + 70:07]
Today we have got so used to the drawbacks with live recordings that we hardly raise an eye-brow when there are stage-noises or other extra-musical inclusions. Applause can be irritating at repeated listening, but it is understandable that they aren’t edited out since this would involve a lot of extra work, not least re-record certain passages in a silent hall. Opera visitor seem very reluctant to save their applause until an aria or act is finished. Now, this is not a greater problem with the present production than with a number of similar issues and generally it is quite possible to enjoy this performance without too much irritation. The balance between pit and stage is quite good, better in fact than in several other sets in Naxos’ ever-growing series of recordings from Italian opera houses or festivals.
The chorus and orchestra may not be in the class of the big opera houses’ forces but they aren’t bad either and Antonio Fogliani leads a generally well-paced performance that includes also the Wolf Crag scene. Moreover there is a special frisson to have a glass-harmonica in the Mad Scene instead of the flute we normally hear. The glass-harmonica was Donizetti’s original idea but good players were obviously sparse. To my knowledge there has been only one previous recording of the opera with glass-harmonica and that was the Thomas Schippers set with Beverly Sills and Carlo Bergonzi, set down almost 40 years ago.
So far so good then, but before you place your order for this set, dear reader, I would recommend you to continue reading a little while. Now I come to the most vital point: the singing.
Good singing is vital for any opera recording, especially when we don’t see the singers and can savour their stage presence and vivid acting. Lord Enrico Ashton is the first of the central characters we meet. We have browsed the synopsis and we know that he is an evil person. When he opens his mouth we also hear that he is. Luca Grassi, who sings the role, has a powerful and coarse voice, his tone is rather guttural and he rarely bothers to find any softer nuances than forte. Cruda funeste smania is a wonderful opening aria for a good baritone but however evil the character is it has to be song with beautiful tone, with some kind of elegance and style. After all this is a bel canto opera and bel canto means ‘beautiful singing’. Here the beauty is missing and the style is of the kind possibly acceptable in a verismo opera. No points for Enrico.
In the next scene Lucia, his sister, appears and expectations are high: Désirée Rancatore we read in the cast list and she is a well-known name in this kind of repertoire. Perhaps we should say ‘was’ - she is a wobbler. We know that different persons react differently to vibrato and through the years we have become hardened - but this is a bit too much. After her first big aria we notice a couple of positive features, however: she has impressive top notes, the voice in itself is beautiful and she knows what she is doing. She gives a three-dimensional portrait of Lucia.
Then the third part in the central drama, Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood, makes his entrance. When he starts singing we suddenly pay attention. Here is a lyric tenor, perhaps a size too small for the role - he has to force to balance his singing partners - but it is a rather flexible instrument and he has done his homework and learnt the difference between f and p. In other words, he phrases sensitively and the somewhat whitish tone makes us think of Alfredo Kraus. Not that he is quite in that class but that we venture to mention Kraus at all is positive enough. Roberto De Biasio says the cast list, and the name rings a bell: he was the tenor on two other recent Naxos operas: Maria Stuarda and Lucrezia Borgia. On both he made a very good impression. Nice to hear him again. Let’s hope he is on good form in the final scene, which is the tenor’s big moment.
But before that we have to evaluate Raimondo Bidibent, the chaplain. We have heard a few phrases from him already but it wasn’t enough to decide whether he is good or bad. As a character he is in fact both, but one wants to regard him as a basically noble person and when we reach the end of CD 1 and the scene where he convinces her that she should obey her brother and marry Arturo, we can conclude that he isn’t so bad after all. He is no Pinza and he isn’t a Ghiaurov or Ramey, to name two basses from more recent times, but he is what an Italian would call ‘passable’.
The mad scene confirms the impression that Rancatore is an expressive singer but that the vibrato is annoying and her coloratura technique isn’t as fluent as Sutherland’s or Sills’ - but it is ‘passable’.
We have also found that Alisa is squally and that neither of the two comprimario tenors is worth writing home about. The third tenor, however, confirms in the last scene that he indeed is something to write home about. Here he sings with glow and commitment and suddenly his voice even sounds that size bigger than we had thought in the beginning. He sings the moving Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali, which always has a special effect on the lachrymal ducts, with all the emotions laid bare. This is the finest moment in this performance and the best, perhaps only, reason to add this set to the collection. It is cheap but it is worth paying a couple of euros or pounds more to get Sutherland, Sills, Gruberova, Studer or Rost instead.
It is cheap but it is worth paying a couple of euros or pounds more to get Sutherland, Sills, Gruberova, Studer or Rost instead.