SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (complete opera) – Natalie Dessay (Lucia)/ Vladislav Sulimsky (Enrico)/ others/ Mariinsky Orch. and Chorus/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky (2 discs)

Not what I wished for, but still full of many virtues.

Published on April 3, 2012

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (complete opera) – Natalie Dessay (Lucia)/ Vladislav Sulimsky (Enrico)/ Piotr Beczala (Edgardo)/ Dmitry Voropaev (Arturo)/ Ilya Bannik (Raimondo)/ Zhanna Dombrovskaya (Alisa)/ Sergei Skorokhodov (Normanno)/ Mariinsky Orch. and Chorus/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD 0512, (2 discs) 131:05 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

Lucia is a role designed for soprano but not entirely to be taken over by the soprano. Those not familiar with the opera but only with the famous “mad scene” may be surprised to learn that it is not the last scene in the opera, which is occupied by Edgardo instead—and quite fittingly, according to the plot. Over the years, sopranos, seeing the great dramatic value in the score and the perfectly fitting way that that Donizetti’s music—with its dramatic coloratura lines—gloves the storyline of Sir Walter Scott’s colorful novel, op-opted the opera for themselves, even exercising cuts that would seem egregious today. In fact the opera was all but ignored from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. But the allure of the music seduced too many for it to go underground forever, and its resurgence allowed for a reexamination of its many merits.

That resurfacing also brought about three performances of such superb quality that any newcomer must overcome them in order to be competitive. The Sutherland recording is easily the best sung though dramatically light; Callas, especially her reading with Karajan, dramatically the most persuasive; and Sills, the third part of this triumvirate, seething with passion and glorious vocalism. Natalie Dessay is easily the reigning queen of Lucias in this day and age, having recorded the score in its translated French, filmed it, and excerpted it in a Virgin Classics recording (the mad scene, what else?). She has studied the role and allowed it, at least in recent years, to become almost synonymous with her operatic persona despite the plethora of other work she has been involved with.

Here she is quite solid, still able to dazzle when she puts her mind to it, though the tone quality is a little thin and her extended vibrato can be a little out of control and irritating, something I have not heard from her before. Her dramatic instincts are right on target even though the overall tenor of the production is rather loose and unwound; Lucia is an opera that demands tight reins, and you don’t come away with the sense that Gergiev has it all under control.

The critical role of Edgardo, sung here by now-press-feted Piotr Beczala, is unwieldy and unfocused, not nearly on the level of the partners of the three sopranos mentioned earlier— though his tonal qualities are very good. Enrico, played by Vladislav Sulimsky, is nicely shaped, as is the chorus in general, not at all heavily Russophiled, but sung with a nicely Italian lightness.

It is no surprise that Dessay wanted to record the work in its original version; one just wishes that the conductor was more temperamentally suited to the music, and that the soprano had been caught a few years earlier. Nevertheless, there is a lot here to be excited about even if the standard icons of this music, still available in excellent sound, are to be preferred. One of the glories of this release is the spectacular hi-res surround sound, making this the best recorded Lucia ever, and for many that will carry much weight. For me, it’s a second opinion albeit a very fine one with some flaws. Dessay is still worth hearing as she is the heir to all that has gone on before, and the modern conception of the role is definitely hers.

—Steven Ritter




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