DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor
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A dramma tragico in three acts, to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott.
The enthusiasm of Europe for Scotland and all things Scottish, that flowered so colourfully during the early nineteenth century, was due in no small measure to the writings of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). His works were widely read, and their influence on, among other composers, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Rossini and Berlioz, was evident even before Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor. Indeed, there had been at least five earlier operas based, however loosely, on Scotts 1819 novel The Bride of Lammermoor, so it is clear that Donizetti and Cammarano were following, rather than setting, a fashionable musical trend.
That said, there is nothing remotely Scottish about the music of Lucia di Lammermoor in itself, but the opera has always enjoyed popularity, even during those years when Donizettis works were thought of little account. Notwithstanding the number of his operas that have more recently been re-discovered and performed world-wide, Lucia di Lammermoor still stands as one of the treasures of his considerable output. Virtually every great coloratura soprano of the past 160 years has sung the title rôle - Fanny Persiani, its creator, Lind, Patti, Albani, Melba and Tetrazzini were among those familiar to earlier generations; nearer our own time dal Monte, Callas, Scotto, Sutherland, Sills and Caballè have each found admirers of their widely differing interpretations. We are fortunate that in 1939 Cetra selected Pagliughi, one of Italys most brilliant sopranos, to take part in their recording of the opera.
It is easy to underrate the importance of the role of Edgardo. The part is not a long one, but requires a combination of lyrical tenderness with heroic steel; remembering his great solo scene at the close of the opera, the singer must keep some power in reserve, though surely no tenor would be so ungracious as to try and overshadow Lucias spectacular mad scene (after which some audiences have been known to leave the theatre, believing the opera to be over). Nineteenth century singers of this rôle include Duprez, the first Edgardo, Rubini and Mario; from the twentieth century, among many others, Caruso, McCormack, Gigli, Martinelli and Lauri-Volpi sang it before the second world war, and di Stefano, Tagliavini, Bergonzi and Pavarotti were much admired after it. Malipieros name is less well-known than these, but he brings to Edgardo a firmly focused, gallant tone and his voice, like Pagliughis, springs off these 78rpm recordings with exciting clarity.
Their principal colleagues are hardly less admirable. Lucias tyrannical brother Enrico is sung by the barely-remembered Giuseppe Manacchini; he makes a virtue of his light vibrato, and excellent diction brings bite to solos in the first scene. His high-baritone relishes the phrase Esser potrebbe Edgardo? when he realises Lucias lover is none other than the dreaded Edgardo; he is gently conciliatory to his sister in the opening scene of the second act but threatens darkly as he sacrifices her happiness to save his own political neck. Here too (Tu che vedi il pianto mio) one first senses that Lucys sanity is draining away, as Pagliughi colours those tearful phrases.
Raimondo Bidebent is the other major personality in the opera, here sung by Luciano Neroni who was little over thirty when the recording was made. This young bass brings a grave authority to his attempts at peacemaking after the great sextet and in his announcement of murder to the horrified wedding guests in the third act. Neronis was a magnificent voice but, like so many of his generation, world war two came between it and a big international career, though he made a number of fine records.
But yes, of course, it is with the Lucia and Edgardo that performances of the opera stand or fall. They appear together in only two scenes, and it is during the duet beside the fountain that they must establish their relationship for the audience. Before Edgardos arrival Pagliughi consistently produces fresh, bright tone without any hint of shrillness; she sounds girlish, as she should, without appearing immature. The aria Regnava nel silenzio may not be full of foreboding but there is, rather, an innocence here and a beautifully controlled closing phrase, si sangue rosseggiù. Her decorations to the cabaletta, Quando, rapito in estasi, are impeccably executed, no sense of stretching for effect, but an entirely natural and effective result. Malipieros very restraint at the opening of the duet, Sulla tomba, is similarly successful, for more is achieved by simplicity than by exaggeration. After the lovers part, they meet just once again in less secluded circumstances in the second act. Then follows Lucias mad scene, surely the most famous in all opera, composed in an era that found such operatic insanity particularly attractive; it is a severe test for any soprano and again Pagliughi scores highly. No great histrionics, but touchingly sung with all the pyrotechnics bright and flashing. In mourning Lucias death, Malipiero sums up the tragedy of the opera. His plaintive cry, Lucia più non è, precedes an exquisite opening to Tu che a Dio, sung softly and with rare elegance; within a few bars he finds all the virile passion of an angry lover and the opera draws to its tragic close as he dies by his own hand.
This recording of Lucia di Lammermoor suffers from the standard theatrical cuts of its day. These include the Wolfs Crag scene, a duet for Enrico and Edgardo, which is omitted entirely; the mad scene has two excisions which beneficially allow the soprano to sing (and close) it without interruption from other characters; and elsewhere second verses of arias and cabalettas are sometimes cut. Though this is regrettable it is not devastating, for what we have is still a masterly performance of one of Donizettis greatest operas; and not, of course, forgetting Sir Walter Scott.
Lucia di Lammermoor was first performed on 26th September 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples.
Lina Pagliughi was born in New York in 1907 and died at Rubicone in Italy in 1980. She was one of the great lyric coloraturas of her day. After studying in San Francisco and Milan, her career blossomed in 1927 with performances of Gilda (Rigoletto) in Milan. She sang throughout Italy and in the Netherlands, the Americas, Australia and at Covent Garden (Gilda again, in 1938). Excelling in the operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, Pagliughi also sang those rôles by Mozart, Richard Strauss, Leoncavallo - even Wagner - to which her elegant technique and sweet voice were ideally suited. In retirement she taught in Milan.
Born in Padua in 1906, Giovanni Malipiero made his début in Rigoletto at the age of 25 and appeared in South America and throughout Europe, first singing in Rome (LItaliana in Algeri) in 1935, and at both La Scala (La Cenerentola) and Verona Arena from 1937. Malipiero participated in the re-opening concert