Notes and Editorial Reviews
The question of language is going to be a determining factor in your decision as to whether to purchase this set. If the sound of the original Italian wedded to this music is important to you, clearly you will avoid it. If you are vitally interested in hearing opera in English because the communication of meaning is of primary importance to you, this recording would recommend itself as long as the perfomiance were at least adequate (it is more than that). Conductor Parry did the translation, and it is musical and effective, if at times a bit stilted (but that is perhaps unavoidable). The singers' diction is crisp and the English is clear and comprehensible much of the time. As Futrál goes into her upper range and starts adding ornaments to her role, words become less clear, as you would expect. And you can't follow the words of the Sextet any easier than you might in Italian. But in passages of dialogue and in even much of the singing, the words make their impact and justify the concept of an English-language Lucia.
Once past the language issue, the perfomiance has to be judged on its musical merits and in comparison with its competition. The problem for any singer today is the constantly accumulating compilation of history. As years go by, recordings document more great singers in the major roles, and the task for the newcomer becomes progressively more difficult. It sounds like a backhanded compliment to say that Elizabeth Futral's Lucia is a fine achievement, one that any of us would be delighted to encounter in the opera house, and I don't mean it to be backhanded. She shades the music with sensitivity, she sings with agility and freedom on top, and with a finn rhythmic impulse. She demonstrates genuine imagination in her phrasing, great breath control, and pure intonation. All of these things are real achievements, and her perfomiance gives substantial pleasure. The problem is that her timbre itself is neither particularly distinct nor uniquely beautiful. It is at its most attractive singing below forte, but as she gets louder and higher it tums a bit metallic. Nothing serious— and if you want an English-language Lucia, her perfomiance will add to your enjoyment of this recording. But when compared to the sopranos whose performances of this role stay in the memory (Callas, Sutherland, Sills, Scotto, Gencer, Caballé) and are available on discs, Futrál cannot be said to be quite in that league.
The recorded history for the role of Edgardo is no less daunting for the modern tenor: Di Stefano, Kraus, Bergonzi, Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo. Paul Charles Clarke sings warmly and with conviction, and his voice has the requisite agility—but the tone lacks the liquid beauty and/or shimmer of those predecessors. Frequently it sounds white and bleaty, particularly in the middle register and at middle dynamics. Alan Opie's Enrico is, in fact, closest to the best recorded competition—rich in timbre, finn in tone production, with rhythmic incisiveness and imaginative inflection as added bonuses. Peter Wedd's Arturo is somewhat fiercely vocalized, and the rest of the small roles are well taken.
David Parry, the regular conductor of this series, does some of his finest work here—with a strong feeling for line, phrase, and overall shape, and a proper balance between blustery drama and lyrical tenderness. Many of the "traditional" cuts of previous generations are opened up here, though not the brief scene between Lucia's Mad Scene and the tenor's final glory. The choral and orchestral forces execute their assignments extremely well, and the recorded sound is among Chandos's finest. There is a clarity to go with their usual warmth, and a natural voice-orchestra perspective that spotlights neither. Andrew Porter's essay on Donizetti and Lucia is extraordinarily intelligent and insightful, and the English text is given in full.
If I had to have only one Lucia in my collection, it would be Callas's live 1955 Berlin performance with Karajan (Angel 63631). It is one of those remarkable evenings in an opera house when everybody was "on," and Callas's insights into the character and her unique way of coloring her voice make this a necessity for anyone interested in Donizetti's masterpiece. Despite it being a monaural broadcast (though of fairly good quality), it is the one truly essential Lucia. The present one will, however, more than satisfy as an auxiliary English-language rendering.
-- Henry Fogel, FANFARE [1/2003]