- Lucia di Lammermoor, opera
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With the 2011 release of Lucia di Lammermoor, Valery Gergiev and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre continue the expansion of their impressive recorded legacy beyond the Russian repertoire. Gergiev and his forces had made their way through almost all the important 19th and 20th century Russian operas for Philips before establishing the Mariinsky label in 2009. This recording, along with the 2010 release of Parsifal, demonstrate that the Mariinsky belongs in the ranks of major opera houses that excel in international repertoire. As with "Parsifal," most of the cast is Russian, with a few European stars brought in, in this case Natalie Dessay as Lucia and Piotr Beczala as Edgardo. Dessay has recorded the mad scene on a solo album, as well as the complete opera in its French version, but this is her first studio recording of the Italian original. Her voice is not large, but it's entirely appropriate for conveying the character's fragility. Her supple, expressive coloratura is flawless and her considerable dramatic gifts make her a believably tragic Lucia; her hell-for-leather mad scene is vocally thrilling, and by the end she sounds like she is thoroughly emotionally unhinged. Hers is an altogether memorable account of the role. Vladislav Sulimsky makes an equally strong impression as a powerfully menacing Enrico. His large, focused, and penetrating baritone and his forceful delivery make him a character who could plausibly intimidate his sister (or just about anyone other than Edgardo) into acting against her better judgment. As Edgardo, Piotr Beczala sings with virile lyricism for the most part, but his highest notes when delivered at a high volume can sometimes sound pinched and tonally imprecise. Among the leads, only Ilya Bannik as Raimondo comes off as somewhat underpowered. Gergiev's reading of the score has wonderful urgency and momentum, but he is also exceptionally well-attuned to the subtleties of the score, whose details emerge with sparkling clarity. The chorus and orchestra respond with nuanced, colorful performances, at once energetic and thoroughly polished. In a telling detail, the glass harmonica used in the mad scene doesn't have the celestial purity usually associated with the instrument, but a creepy graininess that contributes beautifully to the disturbing tone of the scene. The sound is clean, warm, nicely present, and well-balanced. This is a version of "Lucia" that should be of interest to any fan of the opera.