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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor - opera seria in three acts (1835)
Lucia Ashton - Anna Moffo (soprano); Sir Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood - Carlo Bergonzi (tenor); Lord Enrico Ashton, Lucia’s brother - Mario Sereni (baritone); Raimondo, Lucia’s tutor and adviser - Ezio Flagello (bass); Lord Arturo Bucklaw, wealthy suitor of Lucia - Pierre Duval (tenor); Alisa, Lucia’s companion - Corinna Vozza (mezzo); Normanno, an acolyte of Enrico - Vittorio Pandano (tenor)
RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
rec. RCA Italiana Studios, Rome, July-August 1965
RCA RED SEAL 88875 073472 [65.09 + 71.57]

As I explained in my review of the Metropolitan Opera’s Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana in this series of former RCA Red Seal issues, it became the habit of the Met to decamp to Rome each year and record at least one of the staples of their previous season. In 1965, by then with recordings being made in stereo, the chosen opera was Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor which had been performed eighteen times in the 1964-1965 season. It featured Anno Moffo in the title role alongside various changes of singers and conductors. Moffo had been in Rome for RCA in 1963 singing Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. That was alongside the Duke of the Canaries-born tenor Alfredo Kraus and with Solti, on loan from Decca, on the rostrum. In 1964 she was back recording the name part in Verdi’s Luisa Miller partnering the vocally elegant Carlo Bergonzi as her lover Rodolfo.

Lucia di Lammermoor was one of a handful of Donizetti’s sixty odd operas that had found a place in the repertoire of opera houses outside Italy. In an appendix to this review I give some background to the place and impact of the opera on Donizetti’s career. Post-Second World War the work became widely popular largely due to the impact of performances of first Maria Callas (review) and then Joan Sutherland (review) as Lucia. The Met featured it in 1937 and the following two seasons with Lily Pons as Lucia. The role seemed ideal for Anna Moffo who had made a big hit singing the lead in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Met in 1959. Her Gilda had also gone down well and as had her Marguerite and Adina. She had sung Lucia during the Met tour of 1961 and following the rave reviews for Sutherland's Lucia, she seemed ideal, a perfect fit for the new venture. For the recording RCA did not use any of the tenors featured in the Met performances believing that Carlo Bergonzi’s young sound, and elegant phrasing, would make an ideal accompaniment to Moffo’s Lucia. He also had the advantage of not being tied in to any exclusive contract with another recording company. Add to this that he had been successful in the 1964 visit to Rome for the recording of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, not an opera seen at the Met at that time.

As to this recorded performance, Anna Moffo, a lyric soprano with vocal lightness allied to significant flexibility should have been ideal casting as the girlish Lucia. However, my hearing echoes other views that she is a little heavy in tone from time to time in her interpretation of the young Lucia. Nonetheless she is pleasing in Lucia’s duets with Alisa and then Edgardo in act one scene 2 (CD1. Trs.6-11). She also convinces in the great mad scene that concludes the first scene of act three (CD 2. Trs.10-15), one or two scoops apart. As her would-be lover Edgardo, Bergonzi sings with elegant phrasing and good characterisation throughout and is notable in the great double aria of the final scene (CD 2. Trs 18-19).

In the first of the other two major roles, Enrico, Lucia’s dominating and manipulative brother, RCA cast Mario Sereni who had been one of the Met's Enricos. His voice is not as distinctive, nor his characterisations as detailed as those of the distinguished baritones Robert Merrill or Leonard Warren would have given. As Raimondo, Ezio Flagello, something of a 'routinier' at the Met, is rather throaty and lacking in vocal resonance. RCA favourite Georges Prêtre, who had not been in the pit for any of the theatre performances, conducts in a rather stiff manner.

The re-mastered recording is reasonable with the voices set somewhat back. In common with other record companies RCA were suffering in comparison with Decca who boasted FFRR with engineers like Culshaw and Raeburn achieving sonic miracles. The exchange of artists was to presage a brief marriage of recording information between the two. This was not unwelcome to opera-lovers as some RCA recordings, such as their centenary Aida, were technically well below par and not a patch on the casts they fielded.

The accompanying leaflet includes a full track-listing with timings and singers as well a track-related synopsis in English, French and German.

Robert J Farr

Appendix: Donizetti and the road to fame and premature death

The success of Anna Bolena in Milan (1830) and L’Elisir d’Amore (1832) marked Donizetti out as a leading contender, alongside Bellini, for the pre-eminent position among active Italian opera composers. Both had achieved significant success in the Duke of Litta’s season in Milan in 1830 after the latter’s failed attempt to obtain the La Scala franchise. With the premature death of Bellini, and Rossini as administrator of the Théâtre Italien in Paris no longer composing opera, Donizetti was in that pre-eminent position. After the cancellation, at the last minute of his Maria Stuarda by the King of Naples (review) he also felt somewhat disenchanted and restricted by his contract in that city. At Rossini’s invitation he went to Paris in 1835 and presented his opera Marino Faliero at the Théâtre Italien (review). There he also discovered, as other Italian predecessors, including Rossini himself had done, the significantly higher musical and theatrical standards that existed in Paris compared with their own country, even in Naples and Milan with their professional orchestras. Equally appealing to a composer who had to write and present three or four new works each year to maintain a decent living, was the superior financial remuneration for work in Paris. His opera, Marino Faliero, was premiered in March 1835. It was rather overshadowed by Bellini’s I Puritani premiered at the same theatre a couple of months before. Both operas featured four of the greatest singers of the day in Giulia Grisi, Giovanna Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache. However, whilst in Paris, Donizetti was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, which indicated his prestige in musical circles.

Donizetti returned to Italy and presented Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples on 26 September 1835. This was a huge and immediate success. To this day it remains the composer’s most popular serious, as distinct from comic, opera and is widely considered a foundation stone of Italian Romanticism. Based on Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor of 1819. Lucia was Donizetti’s 47th opera and the first of three he was contracted to compose for Naples’ Royal Theatres. It had originally been scheduled for May 1835, but by then the San Carlo was in dire financial straits and an administrative nightmare. Despite Donizetti’s position as Director of the Royal Theatres and being professor at the Conservatorium, the San Carlo management, in financial crisis and inefficient, failed to get the story cleared by the censor and a libretto commissioned.

Lucia’s success was unbounded in Italy with performances throughout the peninsula including La Scala. As was the practice with such performances, the singers, particularly the sopranos, would often demand changes involving pitch or extra items so as to show off their vocal strengths, or cover their deficiencies. Consequently there are a number of different editions of the score represented among the many recordings of this most popular of Donizetti’s operas (Donizetti and his Operas, C.U.P., 1983, p.376).

Increasingly irritated by the working conditions in Naples and the restrictions imposed by the censor, Donizetti’s thoughts increasingly turned to Paris. He returned there in 1839 to present a simplified French version of Lucia at the Théâtre de Renaissance (review). He followed this with three operas in French, including two for the Paris Opéra itself and one for the Opéra Comique.

In the meantime, during the composition of Roberto Devereux, his son was stillborn. This was the third postpartum death his wife had suffered. She herself followed her son to the grave a few weeks later. His children’s deaths were probably related to the syphilis Donizetti was carrying. The impact of his personal tragedies seems to have triggered a renewed impetus of creative energy in Donizetti. In the remaining five years of his creative life he wrote thirteen new operas ranging from comic to dramatic and to French as well as Italian librettos. Like Rossini before him he conquered Paris with his operas simultaneously performed at four theatres in the city. His significant new works for Paris included La fille du regiment (review), premiered at the Opéra Comique on 11 February 1840, La Favorite (review) at the Opéra the following December and Don Pasquale (review) at the Théâtre Italien in January 1843. Unlike Rossini, Donizetti did not settle in Paris. He had gone there in the hope of earning enough money to escape the hectic world of opera houses, and like his great predecessor, retire early. As his health started to decline he clung to his career. He was solicited to consider a post in Vienna as Kapellmeister to the Austrian Court. Captivated by Vienna his opera Linda di Chamounix was premiered there on 18 May 1842 (review) with Maria di Rohan (review) following in June 1843. His stay was interrupted by having to present Don Pasquale in Paris in the January of that year.

Donizetti was not destined to enjoy the fruits of his fame. The tertiary stage of syphilis reduced him to paralysis, insanity and death at only 51 years of age in 1848, a mere five years after his last opera and during much of which time he was semi-paralysed. RJF

 

 




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