'You may not think you need to hear Donizetti's masterpiece in French, but you really...
Annabel Caulton 2002-12-02
Lucie de Lammermoor? Surely some mistake...
But no, this is Donizetti's version of Walter Scott's novel dressed up for the Paris Opèra in 1839. Dressed up? Dressed down, rather: this isn't just Lucia di Lammermoor translated into French - Donizetti's been at it with a pruning knife, and we've even lost the role of Alisa (Lucia's maid)...so our tragic heroine is utterly alone, adrift on a sea of testosterone.
Donizetti specialists are automatically interested; for the rest of us it's the casting of the leads that's the draw: Roberto Alagna as Edgard, without the wife at his side for a change...and Natalie Dessay sings Lucie, a part irrecoverably owned by either Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas, depending which school of opera fanatic you happen across in the foyer. The funny thing is I don't want to compare Dessay to either of them: this Lucie is such a different animal, utterly believable as the naïve, beautiful girl whose forced marriage to a much older man tips her over the edge into one of the most famous mad scenes in opera.
Dessay's voice is a wonder: crystal clear, devastatingly accurate, and with a remarkable power and flexibility...no hint of strain even at the outer limits. Which brings us to Roberto Alagna, who's tended to heave himself at his last few roles on record, with the strain all too evident. This is an altogether happier result: an ardent, impassioned performance, and for once the sense of struggle adds to the weight of the character.
There are no weak links in this cast, and Ludovic Tézier is outstanding as Lucie's scheming older brother, Henri Ashton. Evalino Pidò supports his singers sensitively, sustains the dramatic tension, and the Lyon Opera forces never flag. It's an outstanding recording aswell, warm, detailed, and with a velvety bass that packs quite a punch in the climaxes.
You may not think you need to hear Donizetti's masterpiece in French, but you really should hear Dessay making sense of the title role in a way I've never heard before, and worth the price of admission on her own.