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28 October, 2012
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Gaetano Domenico Maria Donizetti
Recommended Recordings



Arias
(Eric Garrett, Luciano Pavarotti, et al; Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra, et al; conducted by Richard Bonynge, Edward Downes, et al)
This CD contains arias recorded by Pavarotti between 1967 and 1975, and it would not be an overstatement to say that it is probably the most beautiful CD by a tenor ever released. This was Pavarotti in his early prime--indeed, a couple of the arias are first bloom. It covers music from eight Donizetti operas, from the almost startlingly virtuosic "Ah! mes amis..." (La Fille du Régiment), with its nine perfectly placed high Cs, through the ever popular "Una furtiva lagrima" (L'Elisir d'Amore) and three stunners from La favorita to Edgardo's final scene from Lucia and more. But the two priceless pieces of music here are from the little-known Il Duca d'Alba and Don Sebastiano, two arias of such exquisite beauty that were they the only things Donizetti had ever composed--or the only extant singing by Pavarotti--both would still be considered great. This is a treasure trove. Grab it. (review by Robert Levine)

L'Elisir d'Amore
(Maria Casula, Dominic Cossa, et al; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, English Chamber Orchestra; Richard Bonynge, conductor)
This appealing opera about Nemorino (Pavarotti), a poor young Italian peasant, hopelessly in love with Adina (Sutherland), daughter of a wealthy landowner, has a wealth of comic incidents, mostly based on the character of Dr. Dulcamara, a traveling huckster of patent medicines who sells Nemorino a bottle of wine on the pretext that it is a love potion. It also has some of the most gorgeous melodies of all time, including the tenor favorite "Una furtiva lagrima," and a sentimental happy ending that brings out the best in Sutherland's temperament. The singing is gorgeous (this may go into history as Pavarotti's finest recording), and Sutherland elaborates the vocal line and even uses unfamiliar variations in the text that date back to Donizetti's lifetime. The comedy is handled reasonably if not exceptionally well. (review by Joe McLellan)

La Fille du Régiment
(Jules Bruyère, Edith Coates, et al; Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra; Richard Bonynge, conductor)
This opera, about an orphan girl who is adopted by a whole regiment of Napoleon's army (meaning that anyone who wants to marry her must get the regiment's consent) combines sparkling comedy with spectacular vocal writing--not only for the soprano but for the tenor who, in one legendary passage, must produce nine high Cs in quick succession. Pavarotti's performance in this production, fairly early in his career, ranks with his Nemorino in L'Elisir d'amore, among the best of his recording career. Sutherland finds the role of Marie congenial, in terms of characterization as well as vocally, and the conducting is generally acceptable if not spectacularly good. (review by Joe McLellan)

Lucia di Lammermoor (Callas Edition)
(Maria Callas, Mario Carlin, et al; Berlin RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus; Herbert von Karajan, conductor)
Lucia was another one of Callas's signature roles; in fact, one might argue that she made people listen to it in a manner they had neglected since its inception. Long the territory of canary-like high sopranos with no interest in drama (e.g., Lily Pons), Callas brought the role into the same dramatic focus it had been created for. At its premiere in 1835, members of the audience wept audibly at Lucia's lunacy. With her darker tone and psychological probing, Callas made us hear what was in the poor girl's soul--she was an innocent, tricked, abandoned, and driven mad. This live performance, in so-so sound (but absolutely worth it), is staggering in its musical and dramatic potency; something between Callas and Karajan was in the air that made them think, breathe, and create music as one. Callas ducks the first big E-flat in the Mad Scene for dramatic effect; the second one is all the more special for making us wait for it. And elsewhere Callas's "rightness" within the role is never in doubt. Costar Giuseppe di Stefano, too, is at his best, singing with ardor and gorgeous streams of sound, and the ensemble work is so spectacular that the audience demands--and gets--an encore of the 2nd Act sextet. Any collection of great opera recordings without this set is incomplete. (review by Robert Levine)

Maria Stuarda
(Dame Joan Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau; Richard Bonynge, conductor)
This opera becomes a battle of the divas in its great second act, with Sutherland, as Mary Stuart, pitted against the jealous, paranoid and vengeful Elizabeth I (Tourangeau). There is an intensely dramatic confrontation in which insults are violently exchanged between the powerful monarch and her imprisoned but still regal rival to the throne. Mary wins the battle of insults, but this is a dangerous victory over one who has the power of life and death. Elizabeth orders Mary's execution and Act III becomes a spectacle of pathos and horror. Sutherland's usual style is more attuned to pathos than to the swapping of insults, but she rises splendidly to the challenges of Act II and she has a splendid supporting cast. (review by Joe McLellan)

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