Lucia di Lammermoor – Dramma tragico in three acts to a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor
Lucia – Beverly Sills
Sir Edgardo of Ravenswood – Alfredo Kraus
Lord Enrico Ashton – Gian-Piero Mastromei
Lord Arturo Bucklaw – José Nait
Raimondo Bidebent – Victor de Narké
Alisa – Lydia de la Merced
Normanno – Horacio Mastrango
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Colón
Juan Emilio Martini
Recorded 4 July 1972 at a performance in Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: March 2008
CD No: WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES
WHRA-6013 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 17 minutes
This live recording of Donizetti’s tragic opera hailing from the marvellous and huge Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires dates from a time when that theatre could still tempt major international singers down to Argentina. Nowadays today’s jet-setting stars probably find the distance a little too far to combine with their hectic performing schedules.
There is much to enjoy in this preserved performance – not least from the three major artists who are all caught in their vocal prime. Beverly Sills made a commercial recording of “Lucia di Lammermoor” under Thomas Schippers in 1970 in which Bergonzi and Cappuccilli also performed – a version that paled in comparison with those of the dramatic Callas and the amazingly agile and rich-voiced Sutherland. Here, caught under live conditions and with the voluble reactions of the extremely enthusiastic audience one is made aware of the aspects of Sills’s art that were so appealing. She was reportedly never endowed with a particularly big voice, and it was sometimes described as having limited colour and tonal variety. The vocal sound as captured here is certainly bright but she is absolutely dazzling and breathtakingly agile in her coloratura, particularly in ‘Regnava nel silencio’ and in the famous ‘Mad Scene’.
What is lacking is the nightmarish and haunting aspects of that scene. Hers is rather a showy Lucia and perhaps the artistry is not placed entirely at the service of the drama – more at the service of the diva. There is nothing wrong with that, as audiences of Donizetti’s time went to the opera precisely because they wished to hear brilliant and individual vocalism. In ‘our’ age, where the director rules, such performances seem rather old-fashioned and are often critically derided. This might not be a recording you would learn much about the drama with, but as a piece of performance-documentation one can just luxuriate unashamedly.
Alfredo Kraus’s Edgardo was caught in numerous live recordings and he recorded the role for EMI under Rescigno with Gruberová in 1983 when he was in his mid-50s and when his voice was not as fresh. On this recording here is the elegant stylist of his prime, singing with full and lyrical tone and bringing out all the nobility of the character. Sometimes Kraus’s habit of pouncing on or over-exaggerating words or phrases is a bit distracting – but he really rises to the challenge of the final act which is certainly not the anti-climax it can sometimes be. He blends well with Sills in their early duet, and also sounds very well next to the vibrant Enrico of Gian-Piero Mastromei.
Mastromei spent much of his early career in Argentina and at the Teatro Colón in particular and here his wonderfully exciting, characterful and Italianate voice is well caught. His diction and his sheer vocal presence make one wish he had recorded more of the Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi baritone roles.
The other roles are less remarkably sung and in particular the Raimondo sounds rather under-powered. Juan Emilio Martini’s conducting is well-paced and singer-friendly – although sometimes ensemble is not as exact as it could be – at one point towards the finale of the ‘Mad Scene’ act he loses Sills completely for a few bars. But this is a live (stereo) recording and one has to take these imperfections into account. The orchestra, although sometimes caught rather distantly, is responsive and idiomatic. The flautist is very assured in the extremely florid ‘Mad Scene’ partnership with Sills.
Admirers of these singers will find much to enjoy and Mastromei is certainly worth a listen. The discs come with some rather gushing written commentary about the performance, but with no synopsis or text, so they are not ideal for the ‘Lucia’ novice, although this release is probably not aimed at that market.