DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor
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DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor

spacer Damrau, McLaughlin; Calleja, Tézier, Testé, Lee, Meyer; Münchner Opernchor & Orchester, López-Cobos. No text or translation. Erato 0825646 19018 (2)

LuciaCD

This live concert recording from Munich in 2013 shows Diana Damrau to be a formidable Lucia. A few sopranos may be equally agile in the high music and others possibly just as crazy overall, but how many meet both the vocal and the dramatic demands at once? The mad scene finds her acting with her voice, first in the eerie entrance and cavatina, in which she symptomatically bends, stretches and colors the notes. Even in her most spectacular moments, in the interpolated high cadenzas with glass harmonica (a flute is used in most productions), the uncanny focus and speed of her explosive staccato volleys make the character seem “alienated” (to use an early psychiatric term) from normalcy — dehumanized. 

In Act I, Damrau brings hints of fear and instability to the fountain scene as well, in a restless, edgy treatment of its tunes, opening up her tone forcefully even in bravura moments, only to reduce it suddenly to something like a shudder. Altogether, Damrau’s approach shows her characteristic skill and intelligence, along with a versatility that she uses almost to a fault. 

The soprano’s restless variety of approach eventually can seem like a succession of different voices. Sometimes a warmer presence, with moderate inflection, would be welcome — as in the sextet and some other ensembles, which she doesn’t always manage to dominate ideally. 

There’s some disparity between the soprano and tenor in the music that should find them most united, the farewell “Verranno a te” in their love duet. Damrau’s extreme polish, in an extended pianissimo, makes the straightforward Edgardo, Joseph Calleja, sound remote and action-prone, with one foot out the door.

Calleja comes to seem a little selective in his involvement. While not especially ardent or fiery, he has a welcome Italianate flavor. Even a hint of tremulousness doesn’t detract from the warmth he brings to lyrical passages in the final scene, in which he relies on pleasing diminuendos for variety. The support of seasoned conductor Jesús López-Cobos lets him maximize his emotional impact without the signs of effort sometimes heard in the finale. 

The conductor can be extremely accommodating, as the big solo scenes demonstrate, and as we hear in the treatment of the dialogue leading up to the signing of the marriage contract in Act II. Here he gives full rein to Enrico’s manipulations. Baritone Ludovic Tézier gets to be subtle as well as nefarious, while pungent instrumental details and vibrant pacing heighten the tension. López-Cobos introduces the briefest hesitation after a question from Arturo, before the over-cheerful orchestral tune resumes and the villain quickly recovers his oily composure. The sextet, in an unusually restrained manner, becomes a blend of six soliloquies, with the low pizzicato accompaniment audible throughout.

Vitality is always welcome in the sometimes formulaic cabalettas and strettos of bel canto opera, but here, especially with the male singers, the speed suggests impatience as much as intensity. López-Cobos conducts the opening scene as if he were a fan unable to wait for the diva’s entrance, cutting off phrases abruptly and leaving Tézier no chance to vary the pace. The Act III Enrico–Edgardo encounter, which was usually cut in the past, also feels perfunctory and rushed. 

The supporting cast contributes richly to this Lucia. Instrumental soloists also shine — especially the clarinet in Lucia’s Act II entrance and the distinctive atmospheric glass harmonica, as played by Sascha Reckert. spacer 

DAVID J. BAKER

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