This is the latest in the Naxos sequence of Italian bel
canto operas in performances from Italy. They are sung by
predominantly Italian young singers. There is something entirely
admirable in the way that Naxos is making available these recordings.
Unfortunately the vagaries of the current international opera
scene mean that real bel canto singers are in short supply.
This performance, recorded at the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo,
would have been entirely creditable and attractive if heard
live. But it does not quite have the qualities which make you
want to hear it repeatedly.
First, the plus points. The opera is performed in Roger Parker’s
critical edition so what we hear is a lot closer to Donizetti’s
original intentions. We even get a glass harmonica to wonderfully
eerie effect in the mad scene. The singers all seem to be native
Italian speakers. This is less critical in an opera like Lucia
where recitative is kept to a minimum, but it still counts
for a great deal. Finally, most are young so that we have young
characters played by young singers. All this is relative. Don’t
forget that Lucia is supposed to be in her late teens.
Anyone picking up this performance on spec would find a pleasant
enough performance. If you already have a selection of Lucia
recordings (Callas, Sutherland, Caballe and perhaps the
one conducted by Mackerras) then this makes an interesting addition,
giving you an idea what current performances in Italy are like.
The point of a good Lucia is to make the opera come over
as drama. In their different ways Callas, Sutherland and Caballé
make you see the piece as drama; the endless roulades are a
means to an end. Callas is perhaps the best at making you understand,
via the music, that Lucia really is mad. Not every singer can
do this; simply being able to sing the notes is something of
The removal of late 19th century accretions from
the role of Lucia mean that it becomes more accessible to lyric
sopranos with a turn for coloratura. Desirée Rancatore definitely
has all the notes, even her acuti are beautiful and in tune.
She can also sing the fioriture, perhaps without Sutherland’s
amazing accuracy and Callas’s acuity. And there’s the rub. Rancatore’s
Lucia is a pleasant enough girl, who suffers … but not deeply.
During the mad scene she doesn’t sound as if she’s just killed
her husband and is about to expire; she is just too balanced.
More importantly her singing is too generalised. Each individual
note doesn’t seem to matter. I have one further problem with
Rancatore, something of a bête noire of mine – vibrato.
As captured on this disc Rancatore has a significant and continuous
vibrato. Though the core of her voice is substantial enough,
at times the vibrato is a little too like her trills. Some people
might not find this a problem.
As Edgardo, Roberto De Biasio is suitably impassioned and negotiates
Edgardo’s part with skill. Like Rancatore he has all the notes
and his final aria is impressive, but his voice does at times
have a tendency to hardness. De Biasio evidently grasps the
need to inject passion and expression but he seems to be approaching
Donizetti’s music more from the verismo direction than
I felt that Luca Grassi’s Enrico had rather too much of a tendency
to bluster. That said, he and De Biasio do manage to stir up
quite a storm in the Wolf’s Crag scene. Enrico Giuseppe Iori
makes an acceptable Raimondo, but he lacks the warm and suave
believability which are needed to make this character work.
Matteo Barca’s Arturo sounds rather small of voice, but that
might be the recording which is live from a stage production.
There are the inevitable stage noises, but none of these are
overly distracting. To their credit, few excuses need to be
made for the ensemble, it is generally admirable.
Conductor Antonino Fogliani keeps things on an even keel and
whilst the orchestra and chorus are not La Scala, they do a
pretty good job.
The booklet comes with a detailed synopsis and photographs of
the Bergamo production, an Italian libretto can be downloaded
from the Naxos website.
This set works fine if you know Lucia di Lammermoor.
But, even at the inexpensive price, I am wary of recommending
it to the newcomer, there is too much of a danger that you will
listen to it and wonder what all the fuss is about.