The battle for Lucia di Lammermoor is far from won.

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Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Beverly Sills

Lucia di Lammermoor has always been, perhaps even more than Norma, a point of contention between the supporters of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. The performances of both ladies are indeed fantastic and, moreover, totally different. Which of the two should you own? That is not easy. A matter of taste, shall we say?

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Joan Sutherland is unprecedentedly virtuoso and her coloraturas so perfect that they hurt. And yet I remain untouched by her. Why? Perhaps because it is too perfect? I do not know. It could just be me.


Lucia Callas

Whatever you choose, you really can’t do without at least one Callas. Try Naxos (8110131-32) with Giuseppe di Stefano and Titto Gobbi, under Tulio Serafin, for although Francesco Tagliavini (Warner Classics 2564634081) is a much better Edgardo, the rest of the cast (including Callas herself!) is much stronger here.


Lucia Sills

Personally, I prefer Beverly Sills (Westminster 4712502), especially when it is a choice between studio recordings. Her portrayal unites the best of both divas: the virtuosity, vocal beauty and pure intonation of la Stupenda and the great acting of la Divina. Not really a great tragédienne (but then, neither is Lucia); she is more like a passive girl child who allows herself to be completely overwhelmed. The rest of the cast (Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccilli, Justino Diaz) is also at a very high level and Thomas Schippers conducts it all with a firm hand . But what makes this recording really special is the use of a glass harmonica in the mad scene, exactly as Donizetti had originally prescribed it.



Renata Scotto

Lucia Scotto

My most beloved Lucia, Renata Scotto, never recorded the role in the studio. There are, however, several pirate recordings of her in circulation, with Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi and Gianni Raimondi as Edgardo.


Of these four, the recording with Raimondi is dearest to me, not least because of the very energetic and dramatically balanced direction by Claudio Abbado. It was recorded at La Scala in December 1967 and it appeared on Nuova Era (013.6320/21). Unfortunately, this recording is very hard to find.


Below Gianni Raimondi and Giangiacomo Guelfi (Enrico) in ‘Orrida è questa notte…

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Scotto’s interpretation of the tormented heroine is available on DVD (VAI 4418). The production was recorded in Tokyo in 1967. It circulated for years on pirate video, but as the sound and picture quality were particularly poor, the commercial release has made many opera lovers very happy. The sound is a little sharp, making Scotto’s high notes sound even more metallic than usual, but who cares? ‘


Her interpretation is both vocally and scenically at an unprecedented high level. With a childishly surprised expression (my brother does this to me?) on her face, she agrees, albeit not without grumbling, to the forced marriage with Arturo (an Angelo Marchiandi who is hideous in every way).

Below, Scotto sings ‘Il dolce suono’. Who could do it better?!




After her mad scene, you tend to pull the plug, because everything that comes after it can only feel like a cold shower. But you are wrong about that. Edgardo’s two arias, sung by Carlo Bergonzi, will take you straight to (singer’s) heaven.


Afterwards, you can’t help but be a little sad, because where have they gone, yesterday’s singers? Small, tall, fat, skinny, with or without acting talent… None of them was a ballet dancer, but could they sing! And it was through their voices alone that they were able to convey all of the feelings that now require a whole ‘artistic team’. In spite of the cuts that were common at the time, this is an absolute must.

Below, Bergonzi sings ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’
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Patritia Ciofi (French version)

Lucia Ciofi


In 1839, Donizetti adapted his opera for Paris and Lucia became Lucie. It is not the language alone that distinguishes between the two versions, for Donizetti tinkered considerably with both the libretto and the music. Alisa (Lucia’s lady-in-waiting) was cut out of the opera and our heroine remains the only woman in an otherwise purely male company, which makes her even more lonely and vulnerable.


Normanno is now called Gilbert and his role has been considerably expanded. His false play and manipulations make him into a key figure and he grows to almost Iago-like proportions. Arturo has also become more three-dimensional as Henri. And although I miss ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ and scenes between Lucia and Raimondo, I must admit that the French version is dramatically much better.

In this recording (once TDK, hopefully still available), Patrizia Ciofi is nothing less than phenomenal as a rather neurotic Lucie, Ludovic Tézier is superb as a villainous Henri and Roberto Alagna is in his element as Edgar. It was (at the time) one of his best roles.

The director duo Patrick Courier/Moshe Leiser rarely disappoint. Their productions are always realistic, embedded in a historical perspective, but with enough of a nod to the present. Moreover, they do what directors are supposed to do: provide a good mise-en-scène and guide the singers in their performance as to appear convincing.


 THREE LUCIAS OF RECENT TIMES

Anna Netrebko

Lucia Netrebko


Deutsche Grammophon released the Live in HD broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2009 on DVD and Blu-Ray (DG 0734545). Anna Netrebko sang the main role. I never really thought Lucia suited her. Moreover, at that time she was more concerned with showing off than with the soul- searchings of the tragic heroine she portrayed.

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Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
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Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!)


Natalie Dessay

Lucia Dessay

Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre put its own Lucia di Lammermoor on CD (MARO 512). Natalie Dessay is a gifted artist. She has a beautiful voice of unprecedented height, with which she sings the most difficult coloraturas and fiorituras as if it were nothing. She is also beautiful and can act incredibly well; it is always a pleasure to see her in action.
However, her voice, which is not so big, has its limitations. Scenically, she knows how to hide these through her superb acting, but without visual images, things can go wrong. Which you can hear on this live recording from 2010. Her coloraturas are perfect but empty; they have no substance. This Lucia does go mad but we do not know why. But once she is crazy, she totally makes our heads spin.

Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!).


Diana Damrau

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Diana Damrau, one of the world’s best and most famous sopranos, seems to be perfect for the role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. She sang the part already in 2008 at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Five years later, she delighted audiences in her home town of Munich with her interpretation. The concertante performances were recorded live by Erato, but I am sadly disappointed with the result.


Not that there is anything wrong with Damrau’s coloraturas. They are still impeccable, but to my ears they are empty, without any real substance. In her mad scene, she looks more like the mechanical puppet Olympia from Les contes d’Hoffmann than a woman of flesh and blood.


The male roles are all well cast. Joseph Calleja (Edgardo) sings his role with such ease and flexibility that I am reminded of the young Pavarotti. Ludovic Tézier and Nicolas Testé are perhaps not entirely idiomatic, but their impeccable singing is really not to to be criticized. Even the small role of Normanno is perfectly sung by the excellent Andrew Lepri Meyer.


Jesús López-Cobos’ tempi are remarkable, to say the least. It is stop and go again all the time. Sometimes I do not even recognize the music. It seems as if new embellishments have been added.


The recording itself is also quite unbalanced. It is understandable that the opera could not be recorded in one go, but some things were ‘brushed up’ in the studio and unfortunately we can hear this.

spotify:album:4VSvJjkcO90q0uPKFQ4p3w My top three remains unchanged:
1. Renata Scotto with Carlo Bergonzi, VAI 4418
2. Beverly Sills with Bergonzi, recorded in the studio in 1970 (Westminster 4712502)
3. Maria Callas, no matter which one

3 comments

  1. GOedemiddag mis hier de Lucia van Sonja Poot op Mytho uit wenen 1972 daar is opname van maar nergens te verkrijgen wie weet waar??

    Like

  2. Thank you, Basiu, for this exhaustive walk through Donizetti’s opera and its performers. Thagt most definitely helps with selecting which rendition one should listen to.

    Geliked door 1 persoon

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