on January 13, 2004
I have already written a review on this gorgeous recording but seeing a "Callas-Fan" posting invented facts I'm writing another one. First of all: It is said that this performance is "definite". In what way? Technically? As an interpretation? Well, lets begin with with technique: Sutherland indeed sings flawlessly regarding acuti, runs and coloratura. Her vocal problems are her diction, her phrasing and her few vocal colours. This "insane" Lucia sounds the same when she's sane... That of course is a detail, but it is important to me. Here we have it, or not? An interpretation this is not.
"Also, Sutherland's mad scene cadenza's are the most difficult in the world. That is well documented. Her high E's, several of them, are spill- chilling. Hear it, believe it." he so confidently says. Difficult cadenzas are fine... and fantastic to mask an non-interpretation. And the so-called Es are E-flats, and NO, that's not the same. If Sutherland sang Es then she transposed up, hardly tasteful.
No to the Callas-problem the so-called Callas-fan describes so tastefully... Callas DID NOT crack on 50% of every E-flat she sang as Lucia, which recordings are you listening to? Also, on the Karajan-recording she doesn't skip all of them but only the one before the cabaletta because the conductor preferred a "Gentle finish" before the cabaletta. She sings them all in all her other recordings. What is an easy madscene? One that doesn't use cadenzas, overblown fioritura to show off? Callas' madscene is closer to what Donizetti wrote, come scritto there would be no chirping whatsoever anyway, this was all ADDED later. This is no reason to bash Callas, her madscene follows a tradition, and a DAMN GOOD ONE!
"She is no Sutherland!" he then continues. Well, thank God! She's Callas! There is one Callas, one Sutherland, one Sills... so this argument isn't worth a thought. And the so well knowing reviewer doesn't even know how to spell VERISMO, a word EVERY opera-novice knows! That much for his credibility! The next thing is the "beautiful" and "great technique" thing. A)Beauty lies in the ear of the listener B)Callas had a stupendous technique but using her voice to 500% burned her out. And Verdi DEMANDS a secure Belcanto-technique! Leonora has to sing trills and coloratura, as does Lady Macbeth! And they weren't verismo!
Next he bluntly states that comparing Sutherland to Callas is ridiculous, thus "demasking" all those stupid experts like Steane, Kesting, Porter, Fischer etc. who did exactly that. Of course, he, the "Callas-Fan", knows better than those experts. And, surprise, surprise, Callas is still considered as one of the greatest Lucia overall by most of them!
His argument for this presumption is that he's saying this as a Callas- and Sutherland-Fan, my oh my, what a convincing talker, he'd put Marc Anthony to shame!
Next he goes on raving about all the coloratura-tricks, squillo and so forth... But not ONCE does he describe a moment of Sutherland's Lucia that moved him, made him weep... Lucia is like the most tormented gal in opera and all these "reviewers" talk about is technique? WOW!
In one sentence: YES, diction, phrasing and vocal colours are even more important than glowing acuti and flawless coloratura because that you'll get from a machine too. I'm not saying that Joanie sounds like a machine, those reviews create this image! INTERPRETATION and TECHNIQUE...
Now I know that my review will be called "bashing". But, truly, it isn't. I've spent much time and thought on this one. And if the Sutherland-Claque will push it down like 1/69 persons found it useful that only confirms my theory of the claque. If I WERE bashing I'd say: Dull, boring, mushy singing... But that's tasteless...
To sum it up: A brilliantly sung performance, not more and not less.
on February 25, 2004
This Lucia di Lammermoor is quite good but it's not the best and not the greatest Sutherland-recording. Compare it to Sutherland's early recordings of Lucia and notice how matronly Sutherland sounds here and how her diction and pacing has become worse. As for the difficult cadenza mentioned in a former review, that is untrue. Sutherland doesn't sing anything other great Lucias haven't sung previously or after her. I find mature Sutherland to be too old and mushy to sing girly roles, her live-Norma from the same period shows that THIS is where she belonged at this time. Just like with Callas and others, Sutherland's early Lucias are much better than this late one. Also, contrary to other reviewers, I think Sutherland sounds much more dramatic in her earliest recordings of Lucia. The two stars go to Sutherland.
I find Bonynge's bloodless conducting and slow tempi to be unacceptable. When I saw Sutherland live as Anna Bolena this was even worse, Donizetti's fiery music sounded like a bad lullaby. If this were conducted by a true Maestro like Serafin it might have sounded differently. My next big problem would be Milnes who was great in Puccini and some Verdi but totally miscast in Belcanto. Listen to his Scarpia in "Tosca" to see what I mean. Pavarotti sounds well but not as refined as young Carreras or young di Stefano, plus he lacks youthful ardour. This Edgardo and Lucy sound like an old married couple. Also, this Lucia is way too expensive. For a GREAT Lucia with Sutherland get her earlier recording with Cioni. And also get Callas and Sills.
on November 21, 2003
This is my favorite version of this opera, and I have many recordings with Lilly Pons, Sills, Caballe, Scotto, Muffo, a couple of Callas (one even live) and French version with Mady Mesple, and a few others with forgettable singers, and a recording with it on authentic instruments in the original keys (very exciting really, especially since the cadenzas are not those we are familiar with but authentic ones sang by Lucias of Donizetti's time --- very different and very beautiful) and I love them all, though only this, the Sills, the authentic recording, and the Caballe are actually complete versions of the opera, all the others leave out many scenes as was the tradition of the time.
I like the opera to be complete. I know that in times past there were traditional cuts used, but quite often those cuts actually ruined the dramatic punch of the whole. Lucia gets reduced to a few arias for everyone else, and the big mad scene and nothing more. This one is complete. The Sills recording uses Donizetti's original thoughts of the glass harmonica in the mad scene in place of the flute, but the flute works just fine here.
Added touches in this recording one won't find in others is the beautiful harp cadenza in Lucia's first aria. I assume that Sutherland's husband wrote the cadenza and does it ever add to the beauty of the scene.
I find Sutheland's diction acceptable in this recording, and her habit of scooping (which will really become pronounced by the time she records Anna Bolena) is at a minimum. What is so wonderful in this recording is the fact the cast are all equal to the task at hand. That is the biggest draw backs with many of the Lucia recordings I have; the casts are uneven, while the soprano can get through it, the rest of the cast barely can. The voices all blend extremely well together.
Sutherland is older, and perhaps more mature than the role's correct age (but if you really look at it, no singer is the bright 16 year old the opera and the novel talk about, except maybe when Patti sang it), but to me that means nothing. She is wonderful and adds so much to the role. There is so much talk about the DRAMA of Lucia, when in reality, there are very few places where she is actually in some fit or other. Even though the mad scene begins with violence (off stage she stabs her husband 37 times and in the book is found in the fireplace playing with a ribbon), by the time Lucia is before her guests she is no longer violent, but a weak, delicate creature totally overwhelmed by the heaviness of life. She lives in her pretend world of love and light (and with a few phantoms).
I find the Callas portrayal not so much dramatic as tragic. It has the nobility of some great Greek Tragedy, very wonderful and moving; yet, the Lucia of Walter Scott's novel is not noble (her family is actually in ruin, that is why in the book her mother forces her marriage, in the opera her brother), she is not a "tragic" figure in the sense we think of it; she is a pathetic creature whose unhinged mind is the result of being manipulated by everyone around her. She is NOT a self determined person. I think Sutherland captures that aspect of Lucia in spades. Few singers really seem to understand that this is not a Norma who sings runs, this character is a weak, easily manipulated, guilt ridden character incapable of any self-direction. Her only escape from a life she doesn't want is not standing up for herself, but to go mad. And that she does.
Milnes is fabulous as the "evil brother." Actually, he isn't as evil as most think. All he is thinking about is keeping the family honor and some fortune (which will actually benefit himself and his sister in the long run). Arranging marriages like that was normal for the times, and I am sure the man Lucia married knew full well the purpose behind the arrangements. Yet, in the opera (as in the novel) he is not a bad man, he would actually be a good match for her (if she could ever get that "Ratcliff type character she loves" out of her head and heart). Lucia loves dangerously. Sure, in the novel, Edgardo saved her from a rushing bull (we don't learn about that in the opera), but that is no reason to love him (after all, he is a strange melancholy man who is in total ruin, and is ruined by society at large; in the novel he dies by drowning in the quicksand of the marshes), but he is completely unstable. Pavarotti is not noted for his character portrayal; most of the time we just accept his glorious voice. Here, he does give a good account of the ardor of this man, and even a touch of his instability.
This is still my favorite recording, and it has much to recommend it. I love the other recordings I have too, but for various reasons. By the way, Donizetti was not the only composer to write a Lucia opera, a number of composers did, and most are far more faithful to the novel (Donizetti leaves out the "witchcraft" aspects which are extremely pronounced in the book). If you should find any of those on record, it would be interesting comparision to see how a great composer treated the story verses those other composers who composed it at the same time he did.
on February 1, 2002
This is a beautiful Lucia, with a cast that simply cannot be outdone technically. Sutherland, however, sounds a bit 'over-the-hill' and exhausted throughout. 'Regnava nel silenzio' is downright painful in spots...Lucia shouldn't sound old and matronly. The voice sounds forced in the second act as well. The Mad Scene is the highlight in terms of this voice, but the high notes sound echoed, perhaps to cover up unsteadiness?
I picked this recording up after watching Sutherland's 1983 live Met performance. That video made owning this rendering a must. Although Dame Joan's voice had faded somewhat by the time of the live filming, her involvement in the role was totally convincing. I find it very helpful to have seen Miss Sutherland peform the role on stage when I listen to this work, as her motions and facial expressions add so much to her artistry.
Pavarotti and Milnes are both superlative in their roles. It has been said that the two super-giants of opera don't blend all that well together, but the duet in the final CD is engaging nonetheless.
In conclusion, this is a fine recording, but a younger Sutherland or a young Callas might be a wiser choice. Avoid Sills. Her shrill and jittery voice is utterly nerve-wracking.
on July 24, 2000
Yes, I admit Sutherland has droopy diction, but her voice is so magnificent and so beautiful that her diction doesn't bother me. She is one of the best coloratura sopranos we have had this century, I can't say the best because there are lots of other good ones and everybody has different taste. But Sutherland is without a doubt one of the best Lucias that we have heard and maybe that there has been. Pavarotti is also wonderful here and all the way from "Fra poco a me ricovero" to "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali" really shows what a great tenor he is and that Edgardo has a good role, although he has to wait till the end to sing his best. Ghiaurov is also great, but to bad his role is so small, but he really shows off in his aria in the third act "Ah! cessate quel contento". As for Milnes, well, I think there are better baritones than him and someone like Pablo Elvira could have been better than him, but oh well, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Ghiaurov, isn,t that good enough? As for Bonynge, there could have been a better conductor than him for this, but, God forbid you should have Sutherland without him after they married, I never hear her name witout hearing his. But he doesn't bother me. Going back to her diction, I don't think any person that is not fluent in romance languages should complain, and specially the English or the American since they aren't very good with foreign languages(not to offend, if I did, sorry, but in the majority it is true) ,and she, being Australian shouldn't be very good either, so, I don't think she should be blamed. And besides, being good with language is a gift not everyone has, and if she has the magnificent gift of a great voice, why bring her diction up, is it jealousy, envy? I think anybody considering buying this should do it cause it's really worth the money and it's not only one of the best recordings of Lucia, but of all opera. I think it is truly Donizzeti's masterpiece in it's best recording.
on September 23, 1999
This Lucia is historically accurate. So many lost passages are restored. We hear Pavorotti sing with so much passion as to make my hair stand up. The conducting by Bonynge, just mesmerizing. Milnes's big sound, staggering. The fault here lies in Joan Sutherland. No, the voice is sheer perfection. But all I hear a single consonant in the entire opera. Perhaps she should just use "ah", and forget that other syllables are available. I have to say the mad scene is perhaps the greatest display of coloratura I've ever heard. But Lucia is three long acts before that famous scene. And all those "ahs" are driving me crazy! What about the other consonants???? Dame Joan is much more convincing in her earlier Lucia with Cioni, there, she attackes with much more precisions, and her diction far better. But listen to the live Serafin 1959 historic performance, now that's a desert island recording. But I have to say, the droopiness and mushy sounds demonstrated here by Sutherland is a disgrace. She had the perfect instrument, if only she had a better voice coach. But overall, the wonderful combination of great conducting, the ethereal singing of Pavorotti, and the sheer power and weight of Milnes, with occasional perfect coloratura bursts by Sutherland makes this is five star recording anyway. Of course, where's the competition???
on November 19, 2003
Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, and Richard Bonynge, who made such an outstanding team in London/Decca's 1971 RIGOLETTO, are just as great in this LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, recorded the same year. Bonynge, one of the most famous of all bel canto maestros, has total mastery of Donizetti's score. As much as I admire Maria Callas and (today) Ruth Ann Swenson in the role, Joan Sutherland is without a doubt my favorite Lucia. Surely no other soprano in history has sung the music with such a combination of vocal power, phenomenal agility, and incredibly pure tone. Sutherland's top notes are huge; at the end of "Quando rapito in estasi" and the Mad Scene, one can well believe that the Heavens are "opening up" for Lucia ("si schiuda il ciel per me"). For me the most amazing moment in Sutherland's performance is the powerful high note with which she ends Act II (CD #2): hearing it one can easily believe that Lucia has gone mad. As for the claim that Sutherland's singing lacks "character," I can only repeat what a previous reviewer said: that (particularly in bel canto opera) the "character" is IN THE MUSIC. Therefore, when the music is sung with both beauty of tone and dramatic commitment (as it is here), its "character" (that is, the character that the composer has written into it) will emerge. Listening to this recording, it is easy to hear why Sutherland is more often than not considered the definitive Lucia di Lammermoor.
Pavarotti as Edgardo sings magnificently, especially in his final scene. As in RIGOLETTO, his and Sutherland's voices blend beautifully; he really was the perfect partner for her in the bel canto repertory (just as he was for Mirella Freni in Puccini's operas). Milnes is an absolutely first-rate Enrico, a role that too often is undercast. Bass Nicolai Ghiaurov sings the role of Raimondo, Lucia's "spiritual advisor," and he brings to his music a gravity, a warmth, and a smoothness of line that recall the legendary Italian bass Ezio Pinza. The recorded sound is fully up to London/Decca's superb standards. When Lucia enters in the Mad Scene, her voice seems to come from a distance, as though overheard: an eerie effect indeed. And, last but not least, the opera is performed uncut, making one realize how masterful a creation it really is; "in its way as dramatic as LA TRAVIATA" (Christopher Raeburn's words in the CD booklet).
on August 15, 2003
I understand that you want to help make amends among fans of all 3 of our bel canto ladies CSS (Callas, Sills, Sutherland; having typed those three names together so often, I'm justing going to abbreviate), but stop this terrible bashing that you yourself are committing. What do I mean? You're parading the fact that Sills fans have apologized and now you're putting them in center square, shouting into a megaphone "they're the culprits!", humiliating them! THAT kind of "bashing" is 100 times more hurtful than reading a bashing review of my favorite lady of the opera. Sills fans have had the guts to own up to their wrong-doing. Isn't that enough? Have the Sutherland camp done the same? You are well aware that there are Sutherland fans who have done some NASTY things of their own, on both Sills sites and Callas sites. Are they owning up to those deeds? No. Have Sills fans owned up? Yes. So stop your burning-at-the-stake words directed at Sills fans. And what makes you think there's a single Sills fan doing it all? You constantly say "THE basher, THE one". So does it mean that if I apologize, I'm the only person responsible? And it doesn't mean if I apologize, Sills fans are the only ones who have participated in this diva war. So unless Sutherland fans confess to their own sins, stop making it look like Sills fans are the bad guys!
on July 26, 2003
Along with the very famous "Daughter of Regiment" starring Sutherland and Pavarotti, this Lucia contains some of the most beautiful display of bel canto singing I've the privilege to own. Everyone talks about Sutherland and how stupendous she is. I say that Pavarotti did some of his best singing here as well. His two great arias are better sung than just about anyone, including by the great Alfredo Kraus. Pavarotti did not go for the high E flat in the love duet "Sulla Tomba...Ah, Verrano". But he didn't need to, his sumptuous voice and delicate phrasing of the music is enough to make his Edgardo the best since Richard Tucker. I say Richard Tucker because I first heard La Stupenda sang her Lucia at the Met with Tucker, and I remember the battle of the two big voices. Let me tell you the audience was already going nuts after the love duet, and the second and third act had yet to begin. Needless to say, they were going crazy over Sutherland mainly, giving her ovation over ovation. And deservedly so. She was truly La Stupenda back then. Her Lucia here matches my memory of that glorious night at the lyric theater. The "Regnava nel Silenzio" is better than her earlier set, with far better diction and more involvement. The trills were secure and so is the fioratura. She ends the aria with a Sutherland high D, solid as a rock and brilliant. The duet with Milnes is taken up one full tone to the impossible key of E. And Sutherland crowns the end of the duet with a hugh E natural while Milnes sustain an equally large high A. It is phenomenal! After a rousing sextet which has no equals, La Stupenda sings up a mad scene that always bring tears to my eyes. Her involvement in this 1971 Lucia is much more dramatic than in her earlier set which I also own. She also sings the candenzas much faster in this later set. The trill on the high B flat is done very well, and she ends the first part of the mad scene with a confident and held high E flat. The "Spargi d'amoro pianto" is better than in her first set. She makes the intricately difficult aria seem easy and climaxes with a triumphant high E flat.
This is a truly incredibly sung Lucia by all accounts. It reminds me of Sutherland's 1961 debut at the Met. And that, again, brings tears to my eyes. As for her said 30 curtain calls afterwards? I didn't count, I only remember that the ovation lasted more than 45 minutes. I, along with the rest of the audience was complete dumbfounded by singing not heard since the days of Donizetti(if the stories were true about the dramatic coloraturas of the 19th Century). Sutherland is and always will be Lucia. It is her signature role and this recording Lucia is perhaps her finest performance.
on July 25, 2003
THis is the bottom line. There is a huge difference between the two most beloved prima donnas of
the entire operatic universe. They have no other rivals, and they both shared the most prestigious title
of absolute first lady...Prima Donna Assoluta.
First. Maria Callas, the complete technician with every pathos within her every breath! Yes, she has
everything, technique, artistry, and brains. But she did not have the voice. It is at best a very average
voice...sometimes even ugly to the ears. But what she did with it is phenomenal. She can make you
forget that you are listening to an aria. She draws you to the action of the drama. But still...Callas
may have the talent in voice the equivalance of Franz Lizst and Artur Rubinstein - but her inferior
voice is comparable to a great pianist playing on an average upright piano instead of a steinway. She
has all the technique and style, but a very average or evne inferior instument.
Joan Sutherland, the other diva, is the absolute reverse of Callas. She has the most spectacular
instrument in the operatic universe. It is gorgeous in timbre, it is rich, it is huge, it is smooth and
remarkably clear, all the way to a sublime high E or F. And her coloratura is without any rivals, that
is a fact...no one can dispute that. Unfortunately she did not always her voice it the way it should be.
She is no Callas. Yes, Sutherland's instrument is perfection, and so is her technique. And her singing
is like a V. Horowitz playing on a steinway, but with no emotions! Yes, the feat is astonishing...but
the fire is not always there. But still, the sound is superhuman.
I resolve this rivalry between the two opposite divas. I think they are both divine. I overlook Callas's
less then perfect voice but divine interpretations, and I close my ear to Sutherland's droopy
moments, and instead be blown away by superhuman vocal feats. Be moved to tears as Callas prays
to the Madonna in Vissi d'arte, and get goose pimples when Sutherland displayes mind boggling
pyrotechnics in "bel raggio" in Semiramide = hitting three high F's.
Feel fortunate that the two most fabulous divas in history are well documented in the archives, and
stop fighting over whoever is the greatest...they are BOTH the greatest!! Like two flawless
diamonds, Callas being a 50 carat pear shaped canary diamond of extraordinary color, while
Sutherland is a D flawless 50 carat emerald cut diamond with ultimate brilliance...both priceless!!!