Franco Corelli in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Label: GAO 125 (1 disc) • ADD
Donizetti | Lucia di Lammermoor
01. Egli s’avanza. . . Lucia perdona
09. Presentazione di Giovanni Martinelli
In spite of all the beautiful music Donizetti wrote for Edgardo di Ravenswood in Lucia di Lammermoor, it isn't the most logical choice for any tenor when it comes to celebrating his tenth year anniversary at an opera house: as Edgardo's part is rather small, it's very much Lucia's opera. Yet the still unchallenged reigning tenor, Franco Corelli, renowned also for his odd role choices, chose to debut in this opera on the occasion of his tenth anniversary at the Metropolitan.
The celebration was an eagerly anticipated affair, as the Metropolitan Opera had not heard him in anything new since his debut in Roméo et Juliette in 1964. Naturally, the public appreciated the gift: his entrance on stage is greeted with an unprecedented salvo of bravos and his performance is cheered throughout. This public acclaim makes it all the more strange that he abandoned Lucia after the first act of the second performance. Perhaps the negative reviews from the critics played a part in this decision. Thanks to the German CD label Living Stage, those who weren't present can finally judge for themselves whether Franco's performance was all that bad.
In any opera performance the beginning usually tells you something about the way the production is valued by the opera house management. For example, are the best singers in the cast, or did they content themselves with secondary singers for certain parts. Given the importance of the occasion, one would have expected the best, but unfortunately the opening scene immediately tells that this isn't going to be one of those legendary nights. The orchestra plays in a rather dull manner and, while Bonaldo Giaiotti is a fine Raimondo, Rod Macwerther's Normanno is downright inadequate. Matteo Manuguerra is a passable Enrico, but his entrance aria 'Cruda, funesta smania' isn't delivered in a very interesting way here, although things improve from the cabaletta onwards. The next disappointment is Roberta Peters. It would be unfair to deny her a fine voice and the agility for the coloratura passages, but her sharp, at times unpleasant timbre isn't very well suited to capturing Lucia's naive youthfullness. Her aria 'Ardon gli incensi' is first and foremost a technical accomplishment. On the other hand she has enough volume to defend herself when she has to answer to Corelli's ridiculous assault at Edgardo's entrance lines. There isn't any desire for pardon communicated in this 'Lucia, perdona' and if Corelli was the real Edgardo, he would have been arrested on the spot as he was likely to have alarmed the whole castle. Clearly driven by nerves, he attacks the parlando phrases as if they are enemies that must be killed on the spot. Things improve in 'Sulla tomba, che rinserra' and 'Verrano a te sul'aure', but even then there is very little of the poetry that Giuseppe di Stefano brought to this role. In this 1971 Lucia set, fans of Corelli will have to content themselves with a performance which proves that Corelli did not necessarily have diminished vocal resources after 1967, for here he sings like a hurricane!
The following scene about the marriage contract suffers initially from Macwerther's very weak performance, after which Peters and Manuguerra decide to treat the affair with a routine approach, turning it into a very boring bridge section. And I gladly throw in another tomato at Carlo Franci's conducting, which is rather modest. The production actually sounds under rehearsed! If this was the best the Met had to offer in 1971, things were truly desperate. And we can go on, for the chorus would perfectly fit in The Voice of Firestone... And that is still a level too high for Leo Goeke's Arturo – admittedly, his is not a major part in the opera, but if you aren't going to get a good Arturo, you might as well cut scene 4 of act 1, for I can't see a point in performing it in this way.
For the Corelli fan there is much to enjoy in 'Che mi frena in tal momento', as the tenor succeeds in turning it into a solo aria with chorus; no one appears to have the stamina or the guts to interrupt this one man show of the celebrating star, who is increasingly cheered on by the public. Unfortunately, the Metropolitan missed a great opportunity to compensate for all this unbalanced business when they chose to follow the tradition of cutting the great scene between Edgardo and Enrico that opens act two. It is actually this practice that is to blame for the fact that Edgardo's part isn't as important as Lucia's, for that scene would give Edgardo a full ten additional minutes. The scene deepens his character, providing him with a gloomy solo introduction 'Orrida è questa notte' as well as a duet with the baritone. Naturally, that would have been a treasure for the audiences and critics alike, even in a bad performance. As this was not to be, things continue with Peters' excelling once more in the pyrotechnics of 'Il dolce suono', without being able to bring it to life.
Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali
What then is the value of this CD release, beyond the rarity of having Franco Corelli in this odd part, that he abandoned after the first act of the second performance? A performance where his nerves led him to sing with such a burning rage and on such a shameless volume that this Lucia di Lammermoor performance could actually have been labelled 'Edgardo di Ravenswood'. The answer is 'none'. The enjoyment of this performance is restricted to Franco's fans – for the rarity of it, for the masculinity of his voice throughout ánd for his sumptuous rendering of Edgardo's final scene, where he suddenly manages to transmit balanced emotions. 'Tu che a Dio spiegast l'ali' has all the naive sincerity that is demanded and proves that Corelli did have the requirements for the part, as he proved before in his Cetra recording of this aria in the fifties.
The sound of the recording is acceptable, although some rumble can be heard throughout. Yet, the voices are more clear than on the highlights issued many years ago by GAO (GAO 125), though the (out of print) GAO CD has less noise. Perhaps GAO's approach to 'highlights' is the best defense for my harsh review, as they didn't even bother to include Lucia's mad scene. Instead they simply included Corelli's complete part, adding a fine bonus to fill the rest of the CD: Corelli's interesting Carnegie Hall concert from 20 March, 1968 – RS.