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 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!!!
on July 24, 2003
This review will be a comparison between this recording of "Lucia di Lammermoor" and Beverly Sills' recording of the same opera. Let's start with the conductors. Richard Bonynge does a poor job of conducting. He rushes tempos, such as the beginning of the Sextet, and does not handle some parts of the score well. For example, everything that comes after the second verse of "Spargi d'amaro pianto" until Lucia's final high E-flat is very roughly conducted. The orchestra is much too loud and the other singers unleash their large, in the case of Nicolai Ghiaurov, huge voices while Sutherland's Lucia dies. Thomas Schippers handles this part of the score very well. He also starts off the Sextet better. His conducting is dynamic and very exciting. He knows just how to pace the opera so that it is both haunting and thrilling without going too far. He makes the end of the love duet between Lucia and Edgardo very exciting.
On this set, Luciano Pavarotti plays Edgardo. On Sills' set, Carlo Bergonzi plays Edgardo. I prefer Bergonzi's voice and elegant phrasing. Pavarotti tends to sound coarse in his portrayal of Edgardo. Listen to how he spits out the words "sangue" and "guerra" in the first passage of "Sulla tomba che rinserra". In contrast, Bergonzi handles those two words with much more decorum. Bergonzi is definitely ardent, but he never becomes coarse. Of course, Pavarotti has the larger, more brilliant high notes. Because of Pavarotti's ease in high tessituras, he sounds more comfortable in the double-aria finale. Bergonzi struggles a little bit, especially with the high notes.
The Enrico on this set is Sherrill Milnes. I found his singing pleasant, but he doesn't convince me of Enrico's wickedness. Piero Cappuccilli definitely does. Milnes gives the portrait of a not-too-bad big brother, really more sympathetic than his character deserves. Cappuccilli is much more cruel-sounding, but he does break down somewhat after Lucia dies. In terms of voice, both baritones have fantastic instruments. Both recordings have equally good Raimondos. Of course, Nicolai Ghiaurov has the superior instrument, but Justino Díaz' voice is quite nice. Both give good portrayals of a not-too-interesting character. Because Alisa and Arturo are minor characters in the story, I won't discuss the singers who portray them.
We now come to the two Lucias, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. Sutherland has the bigger, mellower voice. It doesn't have the edge or shrill high notes of Sills' voice. Sills' voice is more human-sounding. With regards to coloratura, both are about equal. Sutherland sounds old and tired in "Regnava nel silenzio". She opts not to sing the sustained trill between the two verses of "Quando rapito in estasi". In contrast, Sills sings a haunting "Regnava nel silenzio" and definitely does not sound old and tired. She also sings the sustained trill mentioned earlier. In the love duet, Sills' attention to phrasing and drama beats Sutherland's mellifluous, but basically unexciting, performance. Notice the difference in the way that the two sopranos sing the phrase "ah, più nobile, più santo". Sills sings it delicately while Sutherland sings it like it was a ray of sunshine, for lack of a better description. In the Mad Scene, Sills definitely wins over Sutherland. It is true that Sills adds extra ornaments to practically every line she sings in the opera, but every extra ornament has a good reason for existing. Sills gives an otherworldly rendition of the Mad Scene. Sutherland, on the other hand, just sounds sad. The cabaletta "Spargi d'amaro pianto" is tricky to sing because it is difficult to sing with the appropriate drama. Sills does so very well. Sutherland has no clue as to how that cabaletta should sound drama-wise.
At last, we arrive at the sound quality of both recordings. Sutherland's set has excellent, warm stereo sound. Sills' set has slightly colder, but very vivid stereo sound. To the reviewer who said Sills' set has poor stereo sound, answer this question, "Why is the stereo sound on Sills' set able to perfectly capture the wonderful violin accompaniment to the lines "come un uom che vivo scenda/la sua tomba albergar." and "e il furor degli elementi/rispondeva al mio furor." in the Wolf's Crag Scene, while the same violin accompaniment is captured so poorly by the stereo sound on Sutherland's set? Another thing. If the stereo sound on Sills' set is so poor, how come the delicate sounds of the glass armonica are perfectly captured by it? It may have something to do with the set's digital remastering, but keep in mind that Sutherland's set is also digitally remastered.
on July 23, 2003
There are so many Lucias out there it may be hard to make up your mind. Certainly there is the famed early Sutherland Lucia with Cioni that won the Grand Prix award at Paris when it was first release back in 1960 or so. This one is as good as that one. And the tie breaker comes with L.Pavarotti. Who, I'm shocked to see, is hardly mentioned here. Pavarotti is as good as he was as the duke and Rodolfo. This is prime young Pavarotti, and he makes a great partner with the Dame. Sutherland's Lucia has voluptuous tones and stupendous coloratura and her famous high E flats. Her Regnava nel Silenzio is better than her earlier Lucia, and the mad scene is taken even faster with the cadenzas. The trill on high B flat is a real trill, topped with a superb E flat in alt that is holds the Sutherland signature. The Sextet is far better than the earlier Lucia because the voice is much bigger here. She simply dominates and amazes as Lucia. Don't let anyone tell you this isn't the best Lucia out there, because it is. Superb.
on July 23, 2003
I want to say that I've had this Lucia for years and consider it one of the most enjoyable listen of an opera I own. I also have Callas' 1953 Lucia and Sills Lucia and consider them fine as well. I've reviewed Callas' Lucia with 5 stars but I have not reviewed Sills'.
Sutherland, Callas and Sills are three of the most respected singers of our time. We should be happy that so many recordins preserved for our enjoyment and for future generations of enjoyments. Let's compromise, hear me out please.
I can see both side. But the Callas and Sills fans bashed Sutherland's roles for over a month before any really bad reviews of one star started to go the Callas domains. I see this by reading the reviews and the dates.
I ask for a compromise at least. I don't think that Callas, Sutherland or Sills ever deserve one star reviews. That's for really terrible singers. If you really want to criticize or demean another singer. Three stars should be enough. To continue this is to hurt others. And that's just not right.