with Nadine Sautereau, mezzosoprano
Opera Chorus of Paris
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Nello Santi, conductor
Decca, 1959 (2004)
In her autobiography A Prima Donna’s Progress, Joan Sutherland devotes just a short paragraph (pp. 76-77) to her album Operatic Arias and remembers it incidentally between the recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Geneva and the recording of the “Commonwealth Concert” in London, so that only the quick annotation of the programme, including the two arias from Lucia di Lammermoor, the Bolero from I Vespri Siciliani, O luce di quest’anima from Linda di Chamounix and Ernani, involami from Ernani, gives a hint of the delight of Sutherland’s early album, released in 1959 and conducted by a young Nello Santi.
The fine sound of the recording allows to enjoy fully the Australian soprano’s splendid singing in a collection of arias that, although not all taken from the belcanto repertoire, share a virtuoso character that gives prominence to the flexibility and the grace of Sutherland’s voice at the beginning of her career. Her coloratura and embellishments, in particular the thrills of which she offers many samples in the five arias, the luminosity of her high notes, the easiness with which she faces and overcomes the most arduous passages are among the best features of Operatic Arias. Even her diction, the only feature of her singing that is unsatisfactory, seems more painstaking than usual, although sometimes her words are not clearly distinguishable and she mixes up double and single consonants.
Apart from these, predictable aspects, Sutherland accentuates the differences between her heroines not with the pursuit of precise psychological connotations, but through the wise use of her powerful voice thanks to which she alternates a light, even childish timbre with a more mature one. The first is the case of Lucia’s arias and O luce di quest’anima, the second of Mercè, dilette amiche and Ernani, involami, as if she is trying to divide her characters between the wide categories of young girls and more conscious women.
As for Lucia and Linda, this approach creates a further distinction, while Elena and Elvira seem more similar from this point of view because their real difference is in their moods: Elena is incommensurably happy for imminent marriage, Elvira is longing for her distant lover. Linda is portrayed by Sutherland as a naïve, confident and happy girl filled with the adoration of the “light of her soul”, but Lucia is more complex and if in her first aria she echoes Linda in her expressions of love, it is in the mad scene that the light timbre reveals with subtlety but unequivocally her disturbed state of mind. In this way, Sutherland “reinforces” her characters without betraying the lyricism of her singing and confirms her pre-eminence in these roles.
Nello Santi’s conduction is fine despite the traditional cuts that were not unusual at that time and not only provides the primadonna with an authoritative and precious accompaniment, but prepares magisterially her entries, as in the case of Mercè, dilette amiche, so that it is even easier to expect the fabulous singing of a marvellous soprano.