Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor Sutherland PavarottiDonizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor
CAST: Lucia di Lammermoor: Joan Sutherland; Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood: Luciano Pavarotti; Lord Enrico Asthon: Sherrill Milnes; Lord Arturo Bucklaw: Ryland Davies; Raimondo Bidebent: Nicolai Ghiaurov; Alisa: Huguette Tourangeau; Normanno: Pier Francesco Poli
Chorus& Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Douglas Robinson, chorus master
Richard Bonynge, conductor
Decca, 1971 (1985)

There are several milestone recordings of Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor in the 20th century. One is the live recording featuring Maria Callas in the title role with Giuseppe Di Stefano and Herbert von Karajan. Then there is the Lucia with Anna Moffo, made in 1959, when the amazing soprano was at the height of her vocal splendor. Another interesting recording is the one with Beverly Sills as Lucia, Carlo Bergonzi as Edgardo and conductor Thomas Schippers. Finally, in the early Seventies, Richard Bonynge conducted the present studio recording with a spectacular cast including his wife Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, and Nicolai Ghiaurov.

Lucia di Lammermoor: the Performance

Joan Sutherland (Lucia)

Lucia is one of Joan Sutherland’s eponymous roles. She sang it very early in her career and included it in one of her first solo recordings, Operatic Arias. As she remembers in her autobiography A Prima Donna’s Progress, the first time she performed it at the Convent Garden in 1959, critics wrote that they have never listened to Lucia sung like that before.

Anyway, not everybody is pleased with Joan Sutherland’s Lucia. Someone thinks that her performance is too abstract, ethereal and that – even though exceptional – it is quite boring in the end. I disagree, but I have to recognize that Sutherland’s usual trills and roulades, her shimmering high notes and incomparable technique do not obtain here the same enthralling effect of Alcina or – to remain in the same repertoire – Anna Bolena. There is something restrained in the way she sings Lucia, something that not even her marvelous “bel canto” hides.

Nonetheless, I think that Sutherland’s approach to Lucia is the one that gives prominence both to the virtuosity and to the frailty of the heroine. Even though sometimes Sutherland seems in rapturous contemplation, her characterization highlights Lucia’s mental disorder from the beginning of the opera, perhaps with the only fault to make her a little too dreamy. Moreover, her impeccable phrasing, flamboyant coloratura and profusion of puntature enliven the role and “color” the music.

Luciano Pavarotti (Edgardo)

Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti is one of the best Edgardos in the recording history of Lucia. The intrinsic quality of his ringing and homogeneous voice allows him to sing effortlessly and smoothly. Moreover, his choice of accents – sometimes tender, sometimes fierce – and his subtle characterization of the hero is amazing. Pavarotti does not just sing Edgardo, but he gives psychological depth to him. His Italian origins favor him, and he reveals every nuance of the Italian language to a foreign audience. Add to this his amazing high notes, his agility and his perfect breath control and you will not have to look further for a great Edgardo.

Sherrill Milnes (Enrico), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Raimondo) and the Others

Sherrill Milnes is more generic as Enrico, but not less fine as a singer. He sings his villain characterizing him with such elegance that he cannot fail to delight the listener. As for Nicolai Ghiaurov as Raimondo, his paternal affection for Lucia reminds of his Giorgio in I Puritani. Overall, he is the outstanding singer he has always been, and his smoothness and authoritativeness are out of the question.

Huguette Tourangeau is a valuable Alisa and her burnished voice is a pleasure to hear in this cameo role. Ryland Davies (Arturo) is not as bad as other improbable singers who sang this role, but he is not perfect too. The same can be said of Pier Francesco Poli in the role of Normanno.

The Conduction

Richard Bonynge’s conduction is the last, precious detail of the present Lucia. Firstly, he opens several traditional cuts and restores the “tower scene” at the beginning of the third act. In the second place, his long acquaintance with bel canto operas is obvious. As always, his conduction highlights the brilliant sound of the score and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House shines. He closely follows the singers and it is not a trifle in this Lucia. There is a passage in the duet between Lucia and Edgardo where he seems to follow desperately Pavarotti when the tenor does not care about the tempo, as it is usual with him. Overall, Bonynge is the reliable and gifted maestro he has always been.

Conclusion

The present recording of Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the best in the discography of the opera. This first-rate cast and an amazing conductor are exactly what is necessary for a memorable performance of Donizetti’s masterpiece.

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