Beverly Sills, soprano (Lucia); Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (Edgardo); Piero Cappuccilli, baritone (Enrico); Justino Diaz, bass (Raimondo); Adolf Dallapozza, tenor (Arturo); Patricia Kern, mezzo-soprano (Alisa); Keith Erwen, tenor (Normanno); Ambrosian Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Schippers, cond.
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Taped in 1970, this Lucia documents the work of several superb artists at or near the height of their powers. They combine forces to produce a musically and dramatically satisfying rendition of a much-beloved opera. Beverly Sills is one of the few Lucias on record to both encompass the extraordinary technical demands of the title role and present a totally convincing character portrayal as well. Always a superb actress, Sills manages to sing beautifully and with technical security, all the while conveying the heroine's fragile emotional state. Not surprisingly, the fiendish coloratura writing poses no difficulties for Ms. Sills, who rises to the occasion to deliver a compelling Mad Scene. This is an indispensable souvenir of a treasured artist in a role that seemed tailor-made for her gifts.
Likewise Carlo Bergonzi is a glorious Edgardo, masterfully combining the elegance and declamatory power this great tenor role demands. At this stage of his career he still possessed a secure vibrant upper register. That vocal freedom, coupled with Bergonzi's usual dramatic understanding and stylistic expertise, produce one of the finest Edgardos on record. He caps his portrayal with a glorious Tomb Scene, a veritable master class in the art of the Italian tenor.
On the other hand, Piero Cappuccilli's Enrico is a major disappointment. Such recordings as the DGG Simon Boccanegra under Claudio Abbado demonstrate that Cappuccilli was capable of nuanced and dramatically effective singing. But in this Lucia Cappuccilli lumbers along in monochromatic fashion, giving virtually no indication of the dramatic situation at hand. And while his upper register is secure and his breath control admirable, the voice lacks the rich tonal center one craves in this wonderful Italian baritone role.
Conductor Thomas Schippers is another highly positive factor in this set, leading a performance of considerable drive and momentum performing the opera without cuts, paying great respect to the care Donizetti lavished upon the orchestral portion of the score. Just one example is the use, for the first time on records, of the glass harmonica Donizetti originally intended as accompaniment for the Mad Scene. But all of the important orchestral moments are given their full due, thus reinforcing the dramatic power of a work that too often is viewed as a singer display vehicle.
The young Justino Diaz is a fine Raimondo. All of the subsidiary roles are capably handled as well. The remastered sound is first-rate - warm, full-bodied, and with an admirable balance between singers and orchestra.
I would certainly not want to be without Maria Callas's 1953 EMI studio recording or the incandescent 1955 Berlin performance led by Herbert von Karajan (both feature stage cuts typical at the time). Also of great value are Joan Sutherland's two London studio recordings. She is in fresher voice in the earlier, 1961 recording that also features the best Enrico on records, Robert Merrill. Her 1971 recording has the advantage of Luciano Pavarotti in his youthful prime as Enrico. Perhaps of more specialized interest but another personal favorite is a 1939 Cetra recording with Lina Pagliughi as a first-rate Lucia and Giovanni Malipiero in lovely voice and quite sympathetic as Edgardo. That performance has recently been reissued on the budget Warner Fonit series.
But in any event, fans of Sills, Bergonzi, Schippers, and Lucia need not hesitate in purchasing this long overdue reissue of one of the finest recorded versions of this bel canto masterpiece.
K.M. (April 2002)