Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
Dramma tragico in tre atti [109:41]
Richard WAGNER
Tristan und Isolde
- Mild und leise (in Italian) [7:26]
Vincenzo BELLINI
Norma -
Casta Diva [6:42] Ah! Bello a me ritorna [2:12] I Puritani - O rendetimi la speme [1:03] Qui la voce [3:38] Vien diletto [2:19]
Donizetti: Lucia - Maria Callas (soprano); Edgardo - Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor); Enrico - Tito Gobbi (baritone); Raimondo - Raffaele Arié (bass); Arturo - Valiano Natali (tenor); Alisa - Anna Maria Canali (mezzo); Normanno - Gino Sarri (tenor)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Florence Maggio Musicale/Tullio Serafin
rec. January and February 1953 in Florence
Wagner and Bellini: Maria Callas
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Arturo Basile
rec. November 1949
no texts or translations included
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 084 [68:43 + 64:14]
It would be all too easy, especially at a time when recordings of Donizetti operas seem to be issued at an ever-increasing rate, often performed in editions much closer to the composer’s text than we have on these discs, to regard Callas’s first studio recording of Lucia di Lammermoor as essentially more of historical than musical interest. After all, she made a later studio recording (1959) and there are many live recordings of her in the role, including a much-praised version under Karajan in Berlin from 1955. Despite all of this to me this is the performance that shows that Donizetti was a great dramatic composer but whose music requires a particularly imaginative and sympathetic approach from the performers for this to be apparent.
I have known this recording for many years but have not listened to it for some time. Largely that was because of my memory of a particularly unatmospheric recording quality which reduced the impact of what was obviously an immensely exciting performance. Pristine have once again performed technical wonders which I do not begin to understand but which have turned this ugly duckling into the most radiant of swans. What was always worth hearing despite some discomfort is now simply a joy to hear from beginning to end, encouraging the listener to forget any concerns over recording balance or the brutal and wholly unnecessary cuts and simply to enjoy what still seems an almost perfect cast. The three main characters all sing with total dramatic and musical conviction. Understandably the packaging is dominated by the name of Callas but in reality the contributions of Gobbi and Di Stefano are of equal importance, all singing with real urgency and imagination. The other roles are perhaps more routine, even Raffaele Arié as Raimondo but Serafin’s wonderfully flexible and understanding conducting disguises any small weaknesses in the cast. Although Karajan’s Berlin performance is often praised I find it at times exaggerated in comparison with Serafin’s equally positive but more idiomatic and less self-conscious approach.
One result of the disgraceful cuts in Lucia is that the set is able also to include Callas’s first commercial recordings. Here too Pristine manage to make them much less uncomfortable for the listener although I have not changed my view that these are essentially of interest in showing how far Callas managed to travel later as an artist than for their own intrinsic merits.
As usual with Pristine Audio there are no texts or translations, but these are easily obtainable elsewhere and it would be a pity if this put anyone off buying it. For admirers of Callas or Donizetti this set has always been an essential part of their collections, and in this newly minted form that is more than ever the case.  

John Sheppard 

For admirers of Callas or Donizetti this newly minted set is more than ever an essential part of their collections.