Lucia di Lammermoor (1947)


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Corradi, Filippeschi, Poli, Tajo, di Lelio, Zagonara; De Fabritiis; Rome Opera Chor. & Orch.; Ballerini, dir. In Italian, no subtitles. (1947). 114m. B&W. PAL VHS only

Tully Potter, reviewing in International Opera Collector

“Piero Ballerini’s 1947 black-and-white film of Lucia di Lammermoor has a lot going for it. The score is treated with respect, conductor Oliviero de Fabritiis opening some of the traditional cuts, and the attempts to open out the action are done sensibly. Nelly Corradi is an excellent Lucia, Afro Poli a broodingly nasty Enrico, Italo Tajo a sympathetic Raimondo and Adelio Zagonara a predictably convincing Normanno. Even Mario Filippeschi as Edgardo is bearable, the laser-like voice under control even if some of the phrasing is blunt.”


How does the singing in old Italian opera films differ from that of today? Singers then knew how to valorizzare la parola–to imbue words with meaning. Moreover, their diction was clearer than that of most later singers, including Italians. Consider Schipa: no one since has “spoken” singing so effectively–without sounding mannered. It is difficult to find many examples of Schipa-era singers who were heedless of words and diction.

In this regard, opera singers were like pop singers, and indeed Schipa and others sang a great deal of pop music. They didn’t merely “cross over” on occasion; pop music was part of their recital repertories. (Black opera singers today, to be sure, do sing spirituals, and there are some other parallels with the older approach to recitals.) The pop music in question, of course, was closer in character to opera.

Callas, so the conventional view goes, caused the world to value emphasis on words in the interpretation of bel canto operas. Yet her treatment of words doesn’t seem very different from that of the cast of this Lucia–all insiders, steeped in tradition. The film is noteworthy, in part, because of the unconditional conviction of even the choristers. Similar claims could be made about the other opera films from the period in the catalog, but this one is a particularly good example.

The affecting performance is distinguished by fastidious preparation, also proportion and balance, with accelerations and ritards typically compensating for one another. Corradi is a Lucia with the voce infantile, a “white,” childlike sound. More, Corradi’s face and acting express the drama.
The men interpret their parts with bloodthirsty ferocity. Filippeschi is still fresh, not yet thick, in voice. It has metal. He sings the opening of “Tu che a dio” in mezza-voce. During the transition between the two halves of the tomb scene he gives a spinal chill. How did he climb the ladder to the point of becoming a Callas partner? Listen to him here. And watch him too–he engages in bravura swordplay! Tajo’s voice is focused, and he oozes compassion through his expressive face. Poli’s baritone is warm and mellow.

The film includes the powerful Edgardo-Enrico duet, usually cut in this century. Filippeschi is thrilling here; his voice has the ring, core and bite to enable him to bring the scene alive.

The film was gorgeously photographed in atmospheric settings redolent of the Scottish highlands. (The actual locations were Viterbo, the promontory of Circeo and the park of the Villa Savoia in Rome.) The soundtrack was recorded at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera on September 1, 1946.–Stefan Zucker