Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor Valery Gergiev, cond; Natalie Dessay (Lucia); Piotr Beczala (Edgardo); Vladislav Sulimsky (Enrico); Mariinsky Th O & Ch Read more MARIINSKY MAR0512 (2 SACDs: 130:05 Text and Translation)
There is a great deal to admire in this new Lucia. Natalie Dessay is one of the foremost interpreters of the title role today. She has already recorded the opera in its French version (reviewed by both George Jellinek and Bob Rose in Fanfare 26: 5), and sung it in the worlds leading opera houses, so it is logical for her to record the standard version. And there is no question that she is up to the demands of the role. There is a strong vibrato on sustained notes that is emphasized by the recording process (I doubt it would be as troublesome in the opera house, where the listener is much farther away from the voice than the microphone), and I do find that disturbing. Set against that is her agility (ornamenting all repeat verses with appropriate flair and imagination), her ability to inflect phrases in a way that is musically natural, and the basic attractiveness of her bright, focused, but never hard-edged timbre.
As much as I enjoyed her Lucia, for the collector the issue is how it stands up to competitive alternatives, and Im not sure that the answer is in Dessays favor. There is an old maxim about not letting the great become the enemy of the good-enough. However, in art, that is not applicable, particularly if the great is within reach. Artists hate being compared to their predecessors. They naturally want to be taken on their own meritsand in the opera house during a performance, that is appropriate and right. But unless Im willing to spend limitless amounts of money collecting Lucia recordings (and my wife would argue that, in fact, I am), it comes down to this: Does Dessay offer something to add to a picture of this role already drawn by Callas, Sills, and Sutherland? For me, the answer is no.
Reviewing this recording led me to reappraise the Sills and Sutherland sets (I know Callass well). Each of those ladies brought something highly personal and unique to the role. You might argue that Sutherlands lack of dramatic specificity and limited palette of colors is a defect, and I suppose it is, but no one actually sings the role better. Her rich, plush voice paired with astonishing flexibility and control is a once-in-a-lifetime combination, and her partners (Pavarotti, Milnes, and Ghiaurov) make this a memorable studio recordingand it is uncut as well. Additionally, while Sutherland certainly did not have the dramatic imagination of Sills, Scotto, or Callas, she did make a more serious attempt at characterization than she is often given credit for. And to hear a voice of that amplitude in this music is virtually without precedent, in particular notes above high C with the fullness of tone that Sutherland produces. Callas is, of course, sui generis, coloring and inflecting the role as no other singer has. I like her first EMI studio recording with Serafin and the 1955 Karajan-led Scala performance in Berlin; in both cases, di Stefano is another huge asset. Scottos best work is found in a number of live performance recordings, one with di Stefano (on Myto) and one with Pavarotti (Opera dOro). Sillss recording, originally made for Westminster and reissued first by DG and now by Universal Editions, with the glorious Edgardo of Bergonzi, brilliantly led by Schippers, is another important set. Cappuccilli adds value, and it too is uncut. Sills and Scotto both found ways to manage to combine the sheer pleasure of vocal display with dramatically meaningful and insightful portrayals. Listening again to Sills, one is first impressed by the variety of color she does apply to the voice to reflect the dramatic moment. It is not as rich a range, nor as thorough, as Callas, but it is quite effective and specific. Then there is the techniquea perfect trill, astonishing passagework, and the wonderful ornamentation written for her by Roland Gagnon. Add to that Sillss remarkable diction, far more clearly enunciated than Dessay (let alone Sutherland). I found myself falling in love with her recording all over again. When one speaks of the Sills Lucia, the Callas Lucia, or the Sutherland Lucia, a knowledgeable and experienced listener will immediately get a picture of the performance. I dont feel that is the case with Dessay; one will get a generalized picture of a well-sung performance, but not of a role brought vividly to life in an individual portrayal that will remain in the memory. There is a sense that the vocal gestures are applied from the outside, rather than being deeply felt in the gut. There is a monochromatic aspect to her performance that becomes more evident on repeated hearing.
I wonder if the problem is less Dessay than the overall atmosphere of this recording, which I would describe as highly accomplished but rarely causing a thrill. A colleague of mine once said, after a very competently conducted symphonic concert, My feet never left the ground, and that would be my reaction here. Gergiev does not infuse the score with too much Russian weight; things move along at a reasonable clip and phrases are well shaped. But the rhythmic pulse is often slack, the line sags in places, and the whole thing has about it the feel of too much care and not enough abandon. This feeling is everywhere, and is evident from the opening chorus, which doesnt have the swing or thrust inherent in the music. Beczalas curse of Lucia after being shown her signed marriage contract sounds like a moderately annoyed scolding rather than a cry of pain from the gut. The Wolfs Crag scene, thankfully included here, doesnt ignite the sparks of anger that it should. What is missing throughout the entire opera is the smell of the theaterthe sense of fire and momentum that a truly involving performance manages to convey. Even the best studio recordings do manage that (Sills/Bergonzi/Schippers is a fine example). There is nothing fussy or wrong-headed about the conducting, but it seems to me too controlled, or perhaps controlling. I wanted to like it more than I did, because of my admiration for Gergievs work in such a wide range of music, and because of the smart editorial decisions here (opening all cuts, using the glass harmonica in the mad scene).
It is easy to focus on the soprano in this opera, but in fact Donizetti did not, at least not when all the traditional cuts are opened and we hear his whole work. (Many of the cuts that started coming into practice even in his time were made at the insistence of sopranos who wished to aggrandize themselves, and the result was the elimination of much of the music for the men.) It is important to remember that, unlike most bel canto operas, the sopranos mad scene is not the operas finale. The final scene is given over to the tenor in a huge double aria. I was fortunate enough to attend Joan Sutherlands Met debut, and as you might imagine, the ovation after the mad scene was a good 10 minutes (even including one wag who, as the applause was finally dying down, shouted bravo flutist, igniting another minute or two of enthusiastic outburst). Richard Tucker was the Edgardoand he was not going to play second fiddle to Sutherland. He sang the final scene as if his life depended on it, and managed almost as long an ovation. The fact is that the role of Edgardo is central to a performance of Lucia, and for me the much-praised Beczala just doesnt have the vocal goods. He sings very well, shapes the music nicely, and has all the notes and even the style. But the timbre is wrong, lacking a liquid quality; the legato is not a genuine Italianate legato (and one doesnt have to be Italian to have that down; Bjoerling would be a prime example); and he refuses to let loose when Edgardo must. The collector has the options of di Stefano, Bergonzi, Pavarotti, Carreras, Kraus, and Domingo. It may seem unfair to compare Beczala to these stars of a bygone era, but there they are, a fact of life for the collector and for anyone who would record the role today. As with the ladies referred to above, each of these tenors makes something special of the role of Edgardo.
Vladislav Sulimsky is a rather rough-voiced Enrico, lacking the richness of vocal texture one hears from Milnes or Cappuccilli, or the snarling nastiness and elegance of a Gobbi. The Arturo and Raimondo are actually a bit unpleasant on the ear; the Normanno is adequate. The chorus sings with all the glory we associate with great Russian choruses, and frankly it sounds a bit more idiomatic and into the score than many of the other participants. The orchestral playing is a bit rough-edged at times, but overall fine. This is not a live performance recording, and was recorded in the Mariinsky concert hall, not the opera house. The sonic results, as heard in two-channel stereo, are excellent. The voices have a natural perspective about them, and the voice-orchestra balance is perfect. An illuminating essay by Jeremy Commons enhances the production.
So there you have ita new Lucia that I find easier to admire than to love. In Fanfare 34:4, Bob Rose reviewed the Naxos reissue of a 2007 Dynamic set. It is clear that if Bob Rose and I were stranded on a desert island, wed have very little to argue about. His recommendations for Lucia recordings? Sutherland/Pavarotti; Sills/Bergonzi; Callas/di Stefano/Karajan! Same as mine.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
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Lucia di Lammermoorby Gaetano Donizetti
Performer: Zhanna Dombrovskaya (Soprano), Dmitry Voropaev (Tenor), Ilya Bannik (Bass),
Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Vladislav Sulimsky (Baritone), Piotr Beczala (Tenor),
Sergei Skorokhodov (Tenor)
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble: St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
Date of Recording: 09/2010
Venue: Mariinsky Concert Hall, St. Petersburg,
Polish tenor Piotr Beczala was born on this day, December 28, exactly 50 years ago. In celebration of the tenor’s big day, Operawire shares 50 facts about the operatic superstar.
- Piotr Beczala was born on Dec. 28, 1966.
- He is from Czechowice-Dziedzice in southern Poland.
- He studied under Sena Jurinac in Switzerland.
- He is married to Katarzyna Beczała.
- Beczala is known for choosing his roles wisely and pacing himself.
- He met Luciano Pavarotti twice in his career.
- Beczala has performed with Placido Domingo and Jose Carerras.
- He has sung operas in Italian, Czech, Russian, Polish, German and French.
- His first engagements were with the Linz State Theatre from 1992 to 1997, after which he became a regular member of Zurich Opera.
- Beczala made his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 1997 as Tamino Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote.”
- In 2002 he performed Bellini’s “La Sonnanbula” alongside Edita Gruberova. It was the role with the highest tessitura in his career.
- In November 2004, he made his San Francisco Opera and American debut as Lensky in “Eugene Onegin.”
- Beczała’s La Scala debut came in January 2006 as the Duke in “Rigoletto.”
- He made his Metropolitan Opera debut on Dec. 19, 2006 as the Duke.
- In 2007, Beczała was awarded the Munich Opera Festival Prize.
- In 2011 he accompanied the MET on a tour to Japan, singing Rodolfo in “La Boheme” and Edgardo in “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
- In 2012 Beczala made his role debut as Chevalier des Grieux in Laurent Pelly’s new production of “Manon,” alongside Anna Netrebko.
- In 2012 he celebrated his 20th stage anniversary with a concert at Theatre Wielki in Warsaw.
- He sang the New Year’s Eve concerts at the Semperoper Dresden for two consecutive years in 2011 and 2012.
- In 2012/2013, Beczała reprised his role as the Duke in Michael Mayer’s new “Rat Pack” production of “Rigoletto” at the Metropolitan Opera.
- He opened the Metropolitan Opera House’s 13/14 season for the first time reprising the role of Lensky in “Eugene Onegin.”
- The tenor opened the 13/14 season at Teatro alla Scala for the first time, singing Alfredo in a new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
- Beczała announced his refusal ever to appear in another production at La Scala after a hostile reception from the loggionisti on opening night.
- In 2014 he joined a spectacular group of colleagues for Le Concert de Paris, an annual concert event and celebration at the Eiffel Tower with an estimated live audience of more than half a million people.
- He made his Carnegie Hall Recital debut in 2015.
- Beczala sang Rodolfo in the final performances of John Copley’s La Bohème at the Royal Opera House.
- He sang his first Wagner Role on May 19, 2016 in “Lohengrin” at the Dresden SemperOper alongside Anna Netrebko.
- He has sung 53 performances at the Vienna State Opera since his debut.
- Beczala has sung 10 different roles at the Metropolitan Opera in 10 different operas. They include “La Boheme,” “Manon,” “Rigoletto,” “Romeo et Juliette,” “Eugene Onegin,” “Iolanta,” “Lucia Di Lammermoor,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Faust” and “Rusalka.”
- Ever since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera he has been featured in six HD transmissions.
- The Polish tenor won the ECHO Klassik Award “Singer of the Year” in 2014 for his DVD of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” from the Metropolitan Opera.
- He is an exclusive artist of Deutsche Grammophon.
- He recorded three solo albums for the Orfeo label.
- He has 12 DVDs of fully staged operas.
- The tenor has a CD and DVD recording of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor;” Natalie Dessay stars on the CD and Anna Netrebko stars on DVD.
- He has a CD and DVD recording of Dvorak’s “Rusalka;” he stars alongside Renee Fleming on the DVD and Camilla Nylund on the CD.
- His Alfredo in “La Traviata” is featured on DVD and CD; he is joined by Eva Mei on DVD and Anja Harteros on CD.
- He is featured on to DVD recordings of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” one from Salzburg and the other from Zurich.
- He is featured in two DVDs of “Rigoletto;” a production from “Rigoletto” and the Rat Pack production at the Met.
- To date, the tenor has only sung three Verdi Roles.
- He has only sung two Puccini Roles, Rodolfo in “La Boheme” and Rinuccio in “Gianni Schicchi.”
- Beczala will take part in the star-studded lineup of colleagues on the Met stage to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center.
- He returns to to the Zurich Opera for a new production of of Léhar’s “Das Land des Lächelns.”
- He recorded two solo albums for Deutsche Grammphon.
- Beczala participated in the Metropolitan Opera’s Facebook Live.
- He will headline a New Years Eve gala with Sonya Yoncheva at Baden Baden.
- Vienna’s Haus Hofmannsthal celebrated his 50th birthday with a special exhibit on the career of the star tenor and Vienna resident. The exhibit featured glimpses of his work on the stages of Linz, Vienna, New York, Tokyo, London, and beyond.
26,832 people follow him on Facebook.
- Beczala has over 10,000 followers on Instagram.
- I first saw Beczala in his breakout role at the Metropolitan Opera in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” alongside Diana Damrau in 2008.
Did we miss any other major facts about the tenor? Please add yours in the comments below!
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