When Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was premiered in Naples in 1835 there was as much drama off stage as on. The San Carlo opera house was on the verge of bankruptcy and the musicians hadn’t been paid. His diva, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, was miffed that the tenor Edgardo’s death scene comes after hers – this in spite of the fact that he stabs himself when he hears her death knell! To make things even worse the glass harmonica player, so vital for the mad scene, quit and the composer had to rescore it with a second flute.

Fortunately conductor Jesús López-Cobos seems to have had a much easier time with this fine new release starring German soprano Diana Damrau and the popular Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. Recorded from live concert performances in Munich over four nights, this is a good if not exceptional production. The two leads make a handsome vocal couple but there are occasional ragged edges that would have been airbrushed out in a studio recording. In the big duet Verranno a te sull’aure, for example, Calleja finishes well before Damrau. 

However, these are minor flaws. The ensemble singing in the sextet is a standout and Damrau shines in the Mad Scene with Marchesi’s extended cadenza reinstated. Calleja’s sweet open-chested tenor is a delight and there is strong support with two superb Frenchmen for the price of one in bass baritone Nicolas Testé, who makes a fine Raimondo, and baritone Ludovic Tézier as Lucia’s unscrupulous brother Enrico.

Korean tenor David Lee is a good Arturo, while Scottish mezzo Marie McLaughlin as Alisa and American tenor Andrew Lepri Meyer as captain of the guard Normanno are both excellent. López-Cobos keeps the Münchener Opernchor and Orchester ticking over nicely like a luxury BMW and special mention must go to Sascha Reckert, who plays the glass harmonica – and presumably got paid for this recording.

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Read Limelight’s feature article from the March 2015 issue: Mad About The Girl: Why Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor still gets us going gaga

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