Notes and Editorial Reviews
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
"In this recording the two leading ladies are excellent. Montserrat Caballé shines as Maria, and Shirley Verrett is a great Elisabetta. Ottavia Garaventa is a suitable Roberto, and both Raffaele Ariè and Giulio Fioravanti are strongly voiced characters. Nella Verri is a good Anna, and the conducting by Carlo Felice Cillario is an example of the bel canto style necessary for Donizetti’s music, although he uses the traditional cuts made in those years...Caballé fans will enjoy this recording. "
FANFARE: Bob Rose
Gemma Di Vergy
Premiered at La Scala in
December, 1834 (and immediately following Maria Stuarda), Gemma di Vergy was a hit, running 26 performances before moving all over Italy and the rest of Europe, where it held on for more than 60 years. It then dropped dead, and it was the revival in Naples in December, 1975 for Montserrat Caballé that brought it back, however briefly. Caballé apparently was out of sorts opening night--this recording was made during the second performance on the 12th.
The plot, set in 1428 in a French province, concerns Gemma, who is being dumped by her Count husband (and replaced by Ida) because she cannot produce an heir. Tamas, Gemma's Arab slave, is in love with her; he kills Rolando, the Count's major-domo, Gemma pleads for his life and he is pardoned. In Act 2 Gemma tries to kill Ida but Tamas stops her; he then kills the count during the Ida/Count wedding ceremony. Gemma goes half-mad with despair, Tamas kills himself, Gemma yearns for death. It's not for nothing that an English critic, in 1842, called the plot "sickly and improbable". The opera's best music is the long first finale, a trio/quartet in Act 2, and Gemma's big final scene.
The title role is very difficult, lying in the passagio--that dangerous F-G-A range going up the staff--with some much higher outbursts. By the second performance, Caballé was back on form, but not entirely: she ducks some high notes, others can be a bit raw, and at times she resorts to vocalizing rather than articulating the words, which tends to make vocal production more challenging. But in general, those long-arched phrases and gorgeous pianissimos for which she's famous are here to be savored. (There exists a recording of this opera from the following year, in Paris, in which she's in better voice--but it seems to be unfindable. She also sang it in New York and Barcelona a couple of times before deeming it too difficult--"the equivalent of singing three Normas.")
As the wicked if one-dimensional Count, baritone Renato Bruson is at his finest, singing with a smooth-as-silk legato, perfect round tone, and even a swell, interpolated high-A at the end of his second-act cabaletta. Tamas is tenor Giorgio Casellato Lamberti, and he sings with conviction and manly tone, making what he can of this noble if misdirected character. The rest of the cast is good enough. Conductor Armando Gatto whips the orchestra and singers into a proper frenzy in the big numbers, and elsewhere he's considerate--almost to a fault--of Caballé. For a Donizetti completist this recording is crucial; and at this price, why not add another, sometimes-very-impressive bel canto opera to your collection?
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
This is one of the most remarkable Donizetti productions of the 20th century. The previously released DVD of the same performance (taken live from a 1967 production) has already received acclaimed recognition for its professionalism, great singing, and utmost perfectionism. One wonders why Opera d’oro didn’t plan this release earlier.
Gaetano Donizetti was a very hard-working man, who didn’t simply write light-hearted entertaining operettas. He desired to belong among the greatest of his time, and if he could just have lived longer (he hardly reached the age of 51), he certainly would have.
This performance reflects all characteristics that a reference recording needs; the quality of the singing is superb: no cast has ever fit so well together as this one—all of these singers were in the prime of their career at the time. Carlo Bergonzi was praised for his reliable singing, his refined phrasing, and his remarkable musicality. His performance of Nemorino is one of the finest ever. Renata Scotto’s Adina is warm and round, except for some unstable notes in the high register. Together, they form the enchanting center of the opera, around which the rest of the cast constructs their story—an impressive and ever-reliable Giuseppe Taddei in the role of the soldier Belcore. Carlo Cava and Renza Jotti both sound extremely pleasing in the roles of Dulcamara and Giannetta.
The Orchestra of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is led by a serious and inspired Gianandrea Gavazzeni—a conductor who understands his job very well. Together with a motivated, but clearly over-enthusiastic orchestra (at times the winds sound awfully out of tune), he leads them through all difficulties in the score.
Although the recording was taken from a live performance back in 1967, we still get a relatively clear and focused sound; all details are well preserved throughout the years. Unfortunately, this means that every false note in the winds hurts the ear, partly because of the unscrupulously dry acoustic.
Although we certainly have a great reference recording here, you may like the DVD production from the Vienna State Opera back in 2005. It was released on Virgin and sung by the versatile Rolando Villazòn, joined by the no less impressive Anna Netrebko. It’s a top-notch performance on all levels: great singing, inspired playing, and good sound. For those who look for the classics, try to find the Met production from 1992 with Pavarotti, Battle, and Levine on DG—an equally memorable performance.
FANFARE: Bart Verhaeghe
Lucia Di Lammermoor
Callas had considerable artistic control over her studio recordings. Takes and retakes were done until she was satisfied with the results; occasionally she withheld permission to release the recordings if she felt they did not present her in the best light. Although intended to best represent her artistry, some of the excitement she generated in the theatre was not fully captured in the studio; for that we turn to recordings made in performance. These live recordings present Callas without the benefit of retakes, but give the present-day listener an opportunity to discover what all the excitement surrounding her performances was about. We also have to take what we are given in terms of sonic quality. Fortunately, this is one of the better ones, both in terms of Callas’s performance and the quality of her costars’ performances; and brought to us in decent sound.
Callas made two studio recordings of Lucia, both for EMI, and both recordings (1953 mono; 1959 stereo) were considered “complete”; but only in the sense that they presented a cohesive story line and were substantially more than a collection of highlights. Both studio endeavors are not full presentations of the score, however. What were often referred to as “performance cuts” were exercised, excisions of scenes and material not considered necessary to the story and eliminated to shorten the running time. Such croppings, especially of works not overly long to begin with, are frequently frowned on today, and more recent studio recordings usually include all of Donizetti’s score.
In addition to the studio recordings, several of Callas’s performances of Lucia in various opera houses have been made available: Mexico City, 1952; La Scala, 1954; Berlin, 1955; Naples, 1956; New York, 1956, and a radio broadcast in 1957. The CD under review is the September 29, 1955, performance from Berlin under Karajan. Along with the two EMI studio endeavors—both with Serafin conducting, this Berlin Lucia is among the best examples of Callas in the role. Like the two EMIs, the opera is shorn of two scenes (the scene between Lucia and Raimondo and the scene identified as “Storm, scene, and duet”) and some commentary by Enrico, Raimondo, and Chorus near the end of the mad scene. However, as a bonus, Karajan and company reprise the sextet; so, if you like it as much as the audience in Berlin did, you get to hear it twice!
Callas’s performance in Berlin is closer in interpretation and vocal quality to her 1953 EMI set than the later stereo recording. She is more vocally secure than in 1959, and in the two years since the earlier studio recording, she has found additional insights into the role. Her voice seems lighter in Berlin than in the 1953 EMI; she’s added an extra measure of innocence and vulnerability to the character. This performance is a splendid record of Callas at her best: the precision and detail of the passagework, the legato, the soft pianissimos, the melting diminuendos, the gleaming high notes.
The mad scene encompasses many moods and shifts in tone. A good singing actress responds to these with changes in vocal color, expression, and volume: sometimes sweet and innocent, sometimes dark and fearful, sometimes ethereal, sometimes tragic. It is more than just a long aria with lots of fioritura; it’s a mini-drama in itself. The mad scene is frequently a favored showcase for sopranos who possess an agile voice and some splendid high notes. Callas was among the first to express the drama in the role. She managed to unite the disparate moods into a seamless whole. In addition, she gathered the entire role of Lucia, all of the scenes and arias, into a unified characterization that leads convincingly to the mad scene. Her Lucia was more than a lovesick girl suddenly gone berserk in the last act; hints of the character’s mental fragility are given each time Callas’s Lucia appears.
Callas is partnered by the ever-passionate Giuseppe di Stefano, as she is in the 1953 EMI set. In both recordings, di Stefano is in prime voice, ardent to the dying note; and usually preferred to Ferruccio Tagliavini (a renowned lyric tenor, unfortunately near the end of his career in 1959) in the EMI stereo set. Tito Gobbi’s Enrico (1953 EMI) is a dark-toned villain; Rolando Panerai (1955 Berlin) has a lighter timbre, a pronounced vibrato, but offers an Enrico that is rather fascinating. He starts out somewhat benignly, and then—just when you think he’s not such a bad guy—he bares his fangs and spits some rather nasty venom. The small role of Alisa is given to Luisa Villa, who turns in a distinctive characterization.
The sound on this 1955 Berlin release is surprisingly good. That’s not to say it measures up to the 1959 stereo set, but it’s very clear and well balanced, with only a few patches of over-saturation or fuzziness. The 1953 studio album has never been one of EMI’s better sonic achievements, although the sound in its CD incarnation is much improved over the earlier LPs. If Callas is to be your preferred Lucia, these three entries are worthy recommendations. This Opera d’Oro album has a very attractive price but no libretto. This same performance also circulated on the EMI label, an album that included an unflattering photo of Callas and Karajan on the cover and a booklet with the libretto in four languages. The two studio EMIs also have librettos in four languages, and are available at mid and full price. Incidentally, recordings of Lucia divide the work into either two or three acts. It is generally considered a three-act opera, and all three of these Callas CDs adhere to a three-act format, although abridged. Should you be seeking this 1955 live performance with Callas, di Stefano, and Karajan, be careful you don’t confuse it with a 1954 performance from Mexico. I have not heard it, but I’ve read that it is compromised by sonic difficulties and omissions.
FANFARE: David L. Kirk Read less
Works on This Recording
Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti
Shirley Verrett (Mezzo Soprano),
Ottavio Garaventa (Tenor),
Montserrat Caballé (Soprano),
Nella Verri (Mezzo Soprano),
Raphael Arie (Bass),
Giulio Fioravanti (Baritone)
Carlo Felice Cillario
Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
Date of Recording: 1971
Gemma di Vergy by Gaetano Donizetti
Mario Machi (Bass),
Giorgio Lamberti (Tenor),
Bianca Maria Casoni (Mezzo Soprano),
Montserrat Caballé (Soprano),
Renato Bruson (Baritone),
Mario Rinaudo (Bass)
Naples Teatro San Carlo Chorus,
Naples Teatro San Carlo Orchestra
Written: 1834; Italy
Date of Recording: 12/12/1975
Venue: Live Live
Belisario by Gaetano Donizetti
Augusto Veronese (Tenor),
Alberto Carusi (Baritone),
Umberto Grilli (Tenor),
Bruno Sebastian (Baritone),
Giovanni Antonini (Bass),
Mirna Pecile (Soprano),
Leyla Gencer (Soprano),
Nicola Zaccaria (Bass),
Giuseppe Taddei (Baritone),
Rina Pallini (Mezzo Soprano)
Venice Teatro la Fenice Orchestra,
Venice Teatro la Fenice Chorus
Written: 1836; Italy
Date of Recording: 05/14/1969
Venue: Live Venice, Italy
L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti
Carlo Cava (Bass),
Giuseppe Taddei (Baritone),
Renza Iotti (Soprano),
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Renata Scotto (Soprano)
Florence Maggio Musicale Orchestra,
Florence Maggio Musicale Chorus
Written: 1832; Italy
Date of Recording: 1967
Venue: Live Florence, Italy
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
Giuseppe Di Stefano (Tenor),
Rolando Panerai (Baritone),
Nicola Zaccaria (Bass),
Giuseppe Zampieri (Tenor),
Maria Callas (Soprano),
Luisa Villa (Mezzo Soprano),
Mario Carlin (Tenor)
Herbert von Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
Date of Recording: 09/29/1955
Venue: Live Berlin
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