count Moffo, Scotto, and Gruberova among my favorite Lucias in the opera house (I was too late for Callas), but the two great ones in my experience were Sutherland and Sills, both of whom commanded a virtuosity that made my knees weak. The huge Sutherland voice was uniquely thrilling, but Sills was mesmerizing in her own way. For volume, she substituted her persuasive acting skills and a very touching humanity.
The role of Lucia is primarily about singing, and Sills rises gloriously to every challenge. Impressive indeed are the high notes, the breath control, and the wonderful trills; but she also knew how to shape the musical line beautifully and expressively. Listen to the pliant, ethereal phrases of ‘Quando rapito in estasi,’ the pathos of the duet with Enrico, and, of course, the Mad Scene, where, in this performance, the verbal images are poignantly underlined by the other-worldly tones of the glass harmonica. Just past her prime, Sills is in generally excellent voice, despite a few pallid moments. She is altogether believable as the mentally unhinged heroine, scarcely less subtle and resourceful than Callas. It’s good to have this recording back in the catalog at last.
The rest of the cast is pretty good too. Bergonzi’s Edgardo is perhaps a bit on the prissy side, but the words are beautifully enunciated and the singing is forthright and virile. The tessitura is sometimes too high for comfort, and the tone narrows as it approaches the top, most noticeably in his last aria. (He was slightly fresher four years earlier in the RCA recording with Moffo.) Cappuccilli could be a bland singer, but as Enrico he conveys strength and implacable resolve, and his handsome baritone rings out sturdily. Diaz is a mellow, solid Raimondo, and the supporting players are capable, even if Adolf Dallapozza’s Arturo is whiny in the traditional fashion. Schippers is an exciting conductor, always involved in the drama and always propelling the music forward. His approach is very grand-opera, and his orchestra and chorus stay with him all the way (though the usually reliable London horns have a spot of trouble in ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’).
The performance is absolutely complete, and I believe it’s the only one available that observes Donizetti’s scoring for glass harmonica. More important is the overall accomplishment of the cast, of a sort that makes much of the competition sound amateurish (I’m thinking particular of the fairly recent Mackerras fiasco).