Joan Sutherland -
The Legendary Debut Recital
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) “Ancor non giunse! ... Regnava nel silenzio” [13:04]; “Il doce suono ... Ardon gl’incensi” (Mad Scene) [16:05]; Linda di Chamounix (1842) “Ah tardi troppo … O luce di quest’anima” [6:13]; Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Ernani (1844) “Surta è la note … Ernani involami” [8:02]; I Vespri Siciliani (1855) “Mercè diletti amici” (Bolero) [3:31]; Georg Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759) Alcina (1735) “Tornami a vagheggiar” [5:12]; “Ombre pallide” [10:45]
Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Nadine Sautereau (soprano); Paris Opera Chorus; Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Nello Santi; Philomusica of London/Sir Anthony Lewis
rec. 1959
REGIS RRC1364 [63:09]

Joan Sutherland’s international fame was assured after her triumph as Lucia in February 1959. A recording of the third performance of that production is available on the Royal Opera House’s own label and should be an essential part of any collection wanting to represent her art.

The present disc, apart from the two Handel items, derives from Decca’s first recording after they had signed a contract with her. The main items were recorded only a few months later. It was an immense success, the first of many, and it remains an astonishing achievement. The clarity of her singing, especially given the size of her voice, together with a complete mastery of the coloratura which enables her to phrase with complete confidence remain as amazing today as they were on the day of first issue. Inevitably and rightly the collection is centred on two long extracts from Lucia di Lammermoor. The first is the cavatina and cabaletta in the fountain scene in which Lucia takes her companion, Alisa, into her confidence. Although Sutherland performed and recorded it many times there is an especial freshness in this version, as there is also in the Mad Scene. Both are helped by including the parts of Alisa, sung by Nadine Sautereau in a voice well contrasted with Sutherland, in the fountain scene and the chorus in the Mad Scene, although for some reason they are missing for a few bars at one point. If you do not have this disc already in one of its other forms it would be worth acquiring now for these items alone.

In saying that I would not wish to dismiss the rest of the disc. The Verdi and other Donizetti items are also amazing, sung with accuracy and generosity of approach but without any of the smudgy coloratura or excessive vibrato that too many other singers today resort to. The Handel items are more of a rarity, coming from a disc intended to celebrate the Handel anniversary in 1959. She had sung in Alcina in 1957 with the Handel Opera Society and this stage experience of the role certainly shows. The ease with which she negotiates the notes is again astonishing, and these recordings are well worth resurrecting despite the later recording of the opera.

The actual recordings are acceptable even if they are obviously of their age. To be pedantic one might remark that whilst the main items may be legendary, they did not form Sutherland’s debut recital on disc. That was a 7” Belcantodisc of music by Donizetti, Rossini and Spohr. It has been reissued elsewhere and it is a pity that room could not have been found for part of it here. Nonetheless the essence of this disc is that first Decca recital which marked the emergence of one of the great artists of the gramophone. There are brief notes about the singer but little about the music and no text or translations but do not let this put you off buying it if you do not have these recordings already.

John Sheppard

An immense success, the first of many, and it remains an astonishing achievement.