WORKS: Norma; I puritani; La sonnambula; Beatrice di Tenda
PERFORMER: Joan Sutherland, etc; Florence Maggio Musicale Chorus & Orchestra, LSO/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 467 789-2 ADD Reissue (1962-6)
Sutherland’s portrayals of four of Bellini’s best-known heroines, effectively remastered and reissued to mark the composer’s bicentenary last November, remain the most glorious on CD. Made with Richard Bonynge between 1962 and 1966, they are, for the most part, fresher and more vivid than the versions of Norma, Puritani and Sonnambula they recorded between 1975 and 1984 with Pavarotti (the superb Orombello on this Beatrice di Tenda).
As far as other recordings of these operas go, Sutherland’s chief rival is Callas (though she never recorded Beatrice). She was the more commanding, more compelling actress and had the clearer diction. But for coloratura of mesmerising agility, sheer voluminous beauty of tone and general mellifluous gorgeousness, Sutherland is still in a class of her own. She may have had little truck with consonants and a now-unfashionable tendency to portamento, but her voice is miraculously radiant, rich and affecting.
In recognition of her 75th birthday, also in November, Decca has issued a 27-track ‘best of’ CD set, showcasing some of her most famous roles: Lucia, Norma, Violetta, Gilda, Lakmé, the Queen of the Night – sensational all of them. But there are some surprises too. Along with Isolde’s ‘Liebestod’, there’s a fabulously high-camp ‘Falling in love with love’ from Rodgers & Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse and a cloying ‘Home Sweet Home’, with harp accompaniment, so curdled it’s quite hard to tell she’s singing in English. Still, it’s a wonderful celebration of a remarkable career, and by using recordings spanning 1959 to 1980, an interesting study of the development of a legendary voice. Claire Wrathall