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Lucia Di Lammermoor/Milan 1959
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CD, 9 juin 2014
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This 1959 studio recording of Lucia has held up well. Renata Scotto was just at the start of her international career, but she clearly was a complete artist already ... She s a terrific Lucia. Giuseppe di Stefano also is in good voice ... his passion is welcome. Almost stealing the show is Ettore Bastianini ... Singing with huge tone and an audible sneer, he s the best Enrico on disc ... Nino Sanzogno s conducting and La Scala s playing is exciting and first rate. The sound ... acceptable and very clear. Robert Levine, ClassicsToday Lucia loves Edgardo, but her brother Enrico who wants her to marry his friend Arturo instead forges a letter to Lucia pretending that Edgardo is unfaithful. Depressed, Lucia agrees to the unwanted marriage, but when Edgardo denounces her she goes mad, slashes her new husband to death on their wedding night, and soon dies. When Edgardo finds out he was duped, and that Lucia loved him after all, he takes his own life in despair.
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This recording of Donizetti's most popular opera was originally taped by the legendary Mercury records recording team. It was part of a series of vocal works that were recorded for the Italian music publishing firm Casa Ricordi. It was subsequently released by Mercury Records in the United States. Many of these vocal recordings have been lost in limbo and have not been released under the Mercury label as have the virtually all of the purely orchestral recordings. An exception has been the recording of Cherubini's Medea for which EMI has obtained the rights due to the presence of Maria Callas in the title role. That recording featured soprano Renata Scotto in the secondary role of Glauce. Scotto figured prominently in many of the other recordings as well, which included Rossini's La Cambiale di matrimonio and Petitte Messe Solenelle, plus Verdi's Rigoletto.
I am familiar with this performance based on a long out of print CD issue by Dischi Ricordi, the recording arm of the Italian music publisher. That issue seems to have been taken from a copy of the original master tape... a copy not the original... I base that on the presence of a bit of tape hiss and the fact that the sound is somewhat thin if still reasonably natural, agreeable, and appealing. Also, the CD preserves the original LP side breaks of the original issue. Other incarnations of this performance that I have heard have a much duller sound palate or were culled from the original LP's. Not having heard this particular Opera d'Oro version, my review is based solely on the performance. However, given the low price and the quality of the performance this would still seem to be good value. I will leave it to others to comment specifically on the sound quality.
Needless to say this performance is among the earliest examples of Scotto's art preserved in sound and as such is an invaluable document. Those who are only familiar with her later work need to be reminded of the purity of her voice early in her career. Well, there was always a slight acidic edge to the tone... an edge that was similar to that of Callas. However, one indeed marvels at the pristine nature of the sound and especially when compared to her more familiar later work. Like Callas, Scotto always had dramatic conviction... and her Lucia as evidenced in this recording is no exception. Still, it is a characterization in progress. Her later assumptions of the part would show a growth in her realization of Lucia's mental state... Later albeit live recordings would give us a loonier Lucia... a more eccentric insight into Lucia's mental condition. However, the seeds of that portrayal are already present along with the youthful freshness of her vocal production. The only vocal fault I can find with her performance concerns the fact that her trills are indistinct and not articulated as clearly as they would be in the future.
However, Scotto is not the only reason to obtain this set. Giuseppe DiStefano was the premier tenor of the 1950's and this recording proves why. He was still in potent voice in 1959... and while he may not be subtle at this stage of his career there is no denying the beauty and power of his vocalism. Add the great baritone Ettore Bastianini into the equation plus the firm bass of Ivo Vinco and one has a cast as fine as was possible to assemble in Italy at the time... and indeed having all native Italians in the cast along with the chorus and orchestra of La Scala is certainly a plus... Even the comprimario roles are delivered with authority.
Conductor Nino Sanzogno was not a revered name at the time. However, he proves to be quite adept at executing the score. He takes most of the traditional cuts prevalent in those days with two exceptions. Not only is a fuller version of the ensemble that concludes the second act performed, but this was the first commercial recording to include the extended scene that occurs between the aria and cabaletta of the Mad Scene.
So not a first choice Lucia, but a perfect supplement to the more familiar versions of Callas, Sutherland, Sills, and countless others... Still, it has always been a favorite of mine and a recording to which I return often. I am confident that those not familiar with Scotto's early work will be similarly captivated.
First, di Stefano owned this role.
Second, Bastianini may have had the most gorgeous baritone voice EVER
Third, Scotto at the very infancy of a career that would blossom.
This is what bel canto singing is all about.
Reviewed by Vincent B. LoCoco, Author of the Amazon bestselling novel, Tempesta's Dream - A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera.
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