Gaetano Donizettis LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (Lucy of Lammermoor) An opera in 3 acts.
This is a review of a 2 CD set of a live recording of the opera from the June 10th, 1952 performance in Mexico City. Featuring the pre-weight loss Maria Callas in the title role.
I would love to have a chat with Donizetti sometimes... the man really had a thing for making his high voiced soprani go spectacularly insane on-stage. How gleeful must he have been when his librettist, Salvadore Cammerano, provided him with this adaptation from Walter Scotts novel The Bride of Lammermoor in 1835. It is a bloody twisted tale that is actually based on a bloody twisted true Scottish story of the 1669 tragedy of Janet Dalrymple who murdered the bridegroom who was forced on her on their wedding night and then dies of madness herself 2 weeks later. Real life is pretty darn operatic sometimes!
Aside from the virtuosic Mad Scene for Lucia, this opera is famous for its wonderfully descriptive and elegant orchestration and ensemble pieces (most notably, the Act II sextet). After a short prelude, the opera begins with Normanno, a retainer of Enrico Ashton of Lammermoor, and his companions trespassing Edgardo Ravenswood (the Ashtons enemy)s property. Normanno (and us faithful audience) is treated to Enricos rant about being in financial difficulties and his plan of marrying his sister Lucia off to the well-endowed Arturo Bucklaw as a mean of enriching himself. Normanno informs Enrico that his sister has actually been carrying on a romantic affair with the hated Edgardo, causing Enrico to launch into a tirade (La pietade in suo favore).
In the meantime, Lucia is having a girly chat with her friend Alisa by the fountain at the Lammermoor Castle, telling her friend of her recent ghost sighting (....dont ask me, I know next to nothing about girly chats myself). This scene contains some of Donizettis most brilliantly descriptive vocal lines there is. Listening to it should make any boy weary of dating this unstable a girl! She is low and pessimistic one moment, then high and flighty in the next... and this is about as sane as wed ever hear her in the entire show!
Anyhow, Edgardo arrives for a tryst and informs his girlfriend (while Alisa serves as their watch-woman) that hes been called to attend to a business in Paris right away, giving her a ring as a token of their commitment to each other (a most lovely duet Verranno a te sullaure is sung here, which will resurface later in the show) before leaving.
Act II begins in the Lammermoor Castle, where Enrico is discussing with Normanno the marriage he had arranged for Lucia, and the letter they had forged in Enricos hand-writing saying that he loved someone else. When Lucia refuses to marry Arturo, Enrico presents her with the forged evidence of Edgardos infidelity. Compounded by the chaplain Raimondos advise to put her duty to her family before her own heart (Ah! Cedi, cedi), Lucia finally signs the marriage contract with Arturo. In a fittingly operatic manner, Edgardo materializes uninvited and makes quite a fuss before destroying the ring he had given Lucia upon finding out that she had consented to the marriage. This scene features a most deservedly famous sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento (if youve seen the gangster film Scarface, the assassin who mows down Louie at the beginning does so while whistling the tenor lines from this number).
Proving himself a true villain, Enrico opens Act III by dropping in at Edgardos to provoke him into a duel (a marvelous tenor/baritone duet Qui del padre ancor respira). Edgardo accepts the swording appointment for the next evening at the Ravenswoods grave-yard.
Back at the Ravenswood Castle, all isnt well. All the guests arrive to the wedding ceremony only to be greeted by the horrified Raimondo who then informs them that Lucia had gone mad and slain her husband to be with a knief. To assure all that this is no Aprils Fool joke, a bloody Lucia emerges from her chamber holding a blood-stained dagger and singing one of the most hauntingly insane song in the entire operatic repertoire, Dimmenso giubilo sinnalzi un grido... if you ever want to hear how hallucinations are portrayed musically, there isnt a better example than this number. It is then followed almost immediately after by a true cockcoo song Spargi damaro pianto, where Lucia thinks shes talking to Edgardo, telling him how happy theyll be together in heaven (for a great sample, go here: http://www.songsofpeace.com/ncmcmusic/mus319/Media/Donizetti_Lucia_Spargi.ram, sung by Edita Gruberova, whose voice is about half the weight of Callas, but just as virtuosic and expressive in her own ways).
At the Ravenswood grave-yard, Edgardo arrives early for the duel and hear of Lucias death (of what nobody know...) from Raimondo. Aggrieved, Edgardo launches into a most beautiful tenor aria, Tu che a Dio spiegasti lali, singing of how he and his beloved will be re-united before god in heaven, before stabing himself... ending the opera on a truly bloody note.
Lucia di Lammermoor ::: Maria Callas (soprano)
Edgardo Ravenwood (Lucias lover) ::: Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Enrico Ashton di Lammermoor (Lucias brother) ::: Piero Campolonghi (baritone)
Raimondo Bidebent (A chaplain) ::: Roberto Silva (bass)
Arturo Bucklaw (Lucias ill-fated bridegroom) ::: Carlo Del Monto (tenor)
Alisa (Lucias confidante) ::: Anna Maria Feuss (mezzo-soprano)
Normanno (Enricos retainer) ::: Francesco Tortolero (tenor)
Conductor ::: Guido Picco / Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro de Bellas Artes
Im afraid this set will be an acquired taste for you if you arent already an opera fan. It is from a 1952 live broadcast and the mono sound quality is consistent with its age. The singers voice are captured quite well, but so is the prompters (the stage staff who hides in a box at stage front and feeds the singers their first lines).... among all the other noises. This gets quite distracting during the exposed passages in Lucias Mad Scene (the highlight of the show!).
The Spectacular La Divina Maria Callas as Lucia is the one reason to get this CD. This is one of the very few Fat Callas recording... catching her 2 years before her weight loss (which is considered by many to be the cause of her vocal decline. A pinnacle of cautionary tales for young singers!), and the voice is simply glorious... full, dark, agile, totally controlled, and HUGE in size! And although her characterization of Lucia in this performance is not as fully realized as in later recordings (I think this is the earliest recording available of her in this role), it is still startlingly full-blooded and sympathetic. A young and rather naive lady who is completely shattered into insanity when she is shown the fake evidence her brother presented her with of Edgardos infidelity. Her Mad Scene (track 2 on Disc II) is truly insane, aided ably by the flute soloist miming the flight of her sanity from the orchestral pit... Hear it and you really get a good grasp of the phrase gone cockcoo.
La Divinas co-stars arent quite up to her level in this performance, however. The tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano isnt his usual reliable Edgardo self and spends most of the opera in search of the right pitch, though he gets better toward the end... once Maestro Guido Picco had tired enough to not keep sprinting the orchestra ahead of him, and is rewarded with a good round of applause. Piero Campolonghis Enrico doesnt quite have enough weight in his voice to pull off this role convincingly... though the obvious efforts he put in is well appreciated. The rest of the cast ...er... survived the opera to sing another day, apparently.
The bottom line... the only reason to buy this set (at this bargain price!) is Maria Callas. This shouldnt be your only Lucia CD to have, the sound quality is too awful and the supporting cast arent good for it. If you must have only 1 recording of this opera, Ill suggest either the truly magnificent 1955 recording of Callas (with von Karajan) or the Edita Gruberova/Alfredo Kraus recording.... or the 1st Joan Sutherland recording from 1959. But if you are a fan of La Divina or a collector of Lucia, you really cannot miss this one if just for the sake of hearing that glorious voice before any deterioration set in.
2 CD. Jewel case lining contains a brief note on the story and synopsis in English, and track listing. No libretto provided. That can be found here: http://www.karadar.it/Librettos/donizetti_lucia.html