Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) [132.40]
Lucia – Desiree Rancatore (soprano)
Edgardo – Roberto De Biasio (tenor)
Enrico – Luca Grassi (bass)
Arturo – Matteo Barca (tenor)
Alisa – Tiziana Falco (mezzo)
Raimondo - Enrico Giuseppe Iori (bass)
Normanno – Vincenzo Maria Sarinelli (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 14-16 October 2006
NAXOS 8.660255-56 [62.33 + 70.07]

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 a triumph.

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 is desirable.

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.

Robert Hugill

Too much of a danger that you will listen to it and wonder what all the fuss is about.