I try not to fall for such obvious bait, but in this case, I just couldn’t help it.
With the impending KOC production of Lucia di Lammermoor with Rachele Gilmore in the title role, I was asked recently what was my favorite recording of that opera. Of course, I knew full well what my answer would be, but I hesitated, considering that it might be a trick question.
After all, until Callas and Sutherland came along, Lucia had a reputation for being a barely tragic, “chirpy” coloratura vehicle, drained of its dramatic intent for the sake of vocal acrobatics.
Although Maria Callas made definite dramatic inroads with it in the 1950s, it was Joan Sutherland with her combination of dramatic and vocal style, that turned the corner. Her debut at the Met with it in November of 1961 changed everything. Still, Irving Kolodin in the Saturday Review wasn’t totally convinced: “JOAN SUTHERLAND came, sang, and conquered the Metropolitan Opera House in her awaited debut as Lucia. This mode of putting it means there was never much doubt of her ability to deliver Donizetti’s music with distinction. But how it would sound in a theatre that has devoured many another famous voice was something else…When it comes to character portrayal, however, Miss Sutherland has work to do.”
The several Sutherland recordings notwithstanding, my favorite recording was and remains:
Beverly Sills, recorded in 1970, conducted by Thomas Schippers leading the London Symphony Orchestra and Ambrosian Opera Chorus, with Carlo Bergonzi as Edgardo. And, Schippers uses the glass harmonica that Donizetti wrote into the Mad Scene. This is Sills at the absolute peak of her ability. Deutsche Grammophon 471250.
By the way, the recent Mary Zimmerman Metropolitan Opera production with Anna Netrebko (2009) as Lucia and Rolando Villazón as Edgardo was really marvelous. Daniel Ostling’s set was a refreshing change from the Met’s previous productions.