Bellini: Norma

WORKS: Norma
PERFORMER: Joan Sutherland, John Alexander, Marilyn Horne, Richard Cross, Yvonne Minton, Joseph Ward; LSO & Chorus/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 470 413-2
These are some worthwhile reissues appearing as enhanced CDs on Decca, though in certain cases the original recordings were by Philips, such as the 1976 Lucia, which finds both Caballé and Carreras on wonderful form. Though nothing seems to be made of the fact here, at the time this was vaunted as a performance devoid of later accretions to Donizetti’s vocal lines. More important is the sheer quality of the vocalism, not only from the central pair but also from Vicente Sardinero’s healthy sounding Enrico and Samuel Ramey’s baleful Raimondo. Jesús López-Cobos conducts with style and dramatic intent.


The John Eliot Gardiner Orfeo (1991) also came out first on Philips, and its conductor’s understanding of 18th-century performance practice is central to its appeal. This is the 1762 Vienna version of the score, written for a castrato Orpheus, here personified by the mellifluous American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin, with balanced support from the Euridice (Sylvia McNair) and Amore (Cyndia Sieden). Gardiner

is a purposeful conductor and the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists are at their best.

From Decca’s own back catalogue comes a 1958 Bohème long considered one of the finest ever recorded, partly due to the masterly conducting of Tullio Serafin, who balances the score’s exuberance and poignancy. His cast is formidable, with Renata Tebaldi a complete Mimì and a melting Rodolfo in Carlo Bergonzi. The rest of the central quartet – Ettore Bastianini’s Marcello and Gianna d’Angelo’s Musetta – are on a par, and the result is a treat for Puccini lovers.

Wagnerians will find a great deal to admire in the 1961 Walküre conducted with immense spirit by Erich Leinsdorf. The cast includes Jon Vickers as a truly heroic Siegmund, and Gré Brouwenstijn’s warmly human Sieglinde. David Ward proves a formidable Hunding, and George London’s Wotan is noble in tone. Birgit Nilsson may have recorded a better Brünnhilde later on, but here the voice is magnificent.

The 1978 Don Giovanni conducted by Solti is more mixed, though as ever his dynamism proves an asset. Bernd Weikl’s Giovanni is vividly portrayed, though hardly the most seductive on disc. Gabriel Bacquier is a lowlife Leporello and Stuart Burrows a distinguished Ottavio. Of the women, Lucia Popp’s sweet-toned Zerlina is more consistent than either Margaret Price’s bland Anna or Sylvia Sass’s uneven if frequently exciting Elvira.

The first of Sutherland’s two Norma recordings (1964) finds her in better voice than the much later second. Even so, she does not explore the role as Callas does. But her fans will admire her formidable technique and the impressive supporting cast led by Marilyn Horne’s Adalgisa, John Alexander’s Pollione and Richard Cross’s Oroveso.


With each set comes a booklet containing cue points, a cast list and a synopsis. Libretti can be accessed on the CDs themselves via a computer.