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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Lucia di Lammermoor - Dramma tragico in tre atti [115:34]
Lucia – Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Edgardo – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Enrico – Frank Guarrera (baritone)
Raimondo – Nicola Moscona (bass)
Arturo – Charles Anthony (tenor)
Alisa – Thelma Votipka (mezzo)
Normanno – Robert Nagy (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Silvio Varviso
rec. live radio broadcast, 9 December 1961, Metropolitan Opera, New York.
XR remastering in Ambient Stereo PRISTINE AUDIO PACO141 [55:44 + 59:53]
Following her sensational debut as Lucia at Covent Garden in 1959, Joan Sutherland toured and conquered the world, in typically modest fashion, with the role she sang most often during her career – 233 times, according to Decca - and with which, alongside Callas, she set a standard to which her successors still aspire.
This live radio broadcast, in excellent sound rendered even better by the usual Pristine treatment, catches her on the wing in one of her five Met performances accompanied by a strong cast and excellent, flexible energised conducting from a young Silvio Varviso. Given that Andrew Rose has remastered it into Ambient Stereo, the only disadvantages reside in the bronchial audience, hacking and sneezing for example through the lovely harp solo introduction to “Regnava nel silenzio”, and the standard cuts of that era: in Act 1, the repeat of Enrico’s “La pietade in suo favore” has gone, the close of Act 2 is truncated by the snipping of the remainder of his duet with Lucia, and of course there is no Wolf’s Crag scene opening Act 3; overall we lose over twenty minutes of music compared with Sutherland’s 1971 studio recording for Decca with a stellar cast.
There are more elegant portrayals of Edgardo than Richard Tucker’s, but his verve, vocal solidity and commitment are not in doubt and he at least has the clarion volume to match Sutherland in their duets. Met stalwart Frank Guarrera’s sturdy baritone provides thrilling top notes and plenty of volume but also a fairly pronounced beat and some intermittent unsteadiness where we really need a smoother line of the kind Milnes or Panerai offer. Veteran Nicola Moscona here bows out after a twenty-five-year Met career as a weighty, sonorous, slightly rocky Raimondo. Tenors Charles Anthony and Robert Nagy sing attractively as Arturo and Normanno respectively; Thelma Votipka is a matronly Alisa.
But, with a nod to Tucker, this is all about La Stupenda, who justifies her sobriquet with a phenomenal performance, her pearlescent soprano utterly even throughout the two-octave tessitura, capped with utterly secure top Ds and a stratospheric high E flat to conclude the Mad Scene. Her trills are rock-steady and properly executed rather than fluttered and fudged, her intonation is flawless, and her downward staccati, roulades and portamenti all astound. Her duet – duel? – with the flute is mesmerising. Of course, the voice is huge and mellow; this is no tweety-bird Lucia but suffering flesh-and-blood with a soul; even her characterisation and diction - areas which sometimes attracted criticism - are more than satisfactory. So stunning is her singing that, as the announcer Milton Cross observes in his commentary, the often noisy audience falls absolutely silent throughout the Mad Scene before erupting both at the mid-point and at the end in tumultuous applause.
The Decca studio recording remains the standard recommendation, but there is a special thrill and atmosphere in hearing the youthful Sutherland live and in freshest voice here.