Monday, March 24, 2008

The Opera - Part III - "Lucia di Lammermoor"

Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor is the source of the libretto for "Lucia" by Gaetano Donizetti. It's a tragic story of star-crossed lovers, stolen letters, madness, and murder that takes place in the Scottish lowlands. The families of the lovers, Lucia and Edgardo, have been engaged in a long-running feud, and the two have been meeting in secret on the grounds of Lammermoor Castle. Lucia's brother, Enrico, sung by Mariusz Kwiecien, wants Lucia to marry Arturo, a man of great fortune, to save the family's property and honor.

The performance by Natalie Dessay, as Lucia, is possibly the most outstanding singing and acting that I have ever experienced at an opera. Dessay is quite small in stature, and to hear that great voice come from a petite woman was astonishing. I'm aware that a singer's size has nothing to do with strength of voice, yet it was surprising to me to hear such power come forth from her. Her acting, especially in her mad scenes and those in which she is forced to marry a man she does not love, is masterful. As she stands up with Arturo, she is faint, seemingly near to death, trilling her notes softly and beautifully. Dessay showcased her lovely coloratura voice to excellent effect in this bel canto opera.

Enrico, upon finding out about his sister's clandestine meetings with his mortal enemy, becomes enraged and, in fact, remains enraged through the greater part of the opera. He was excellent, demonstrating his anger in both his singing and acting with great verve and realism. Edgardo and Lucia were perfectly believable as lovers, however, none of the male characters in the opera, including Edgardo, seemed to take note of Lucia's fragility, and all contribute, in some manner, to push her over the edge into madness. The chaplain and Lucia's tutor, Raimondo, should have taken better care of her, but I suppose he was no match for Enrico's rage. Watching the angry Enrico, I could not help but wonder why he didn't find himself a rich heiress to marry to save the family fortune and honor, instead of forcing his sister into a marriage to a man she did not love. I have never, ever, been so emotionally caught up in the drama of an opera, as I was with this performance of Lucia. I was lost in it, mesmerized, outside of time and place.

Joseph Colaneri, replaced Joseph Levine, who was to have conducted the opera, at the eleventh hour and made an excellent work of it.

The Met production returned to the original custom of using a glass armonica in the orchestra during Lucia's mad scene. The instrument's volume is quite low, therefore the flute is most often used for the brief bit of music. I was told that amplification was most likely used, because we would not have been able to hear the armonica without it.

As Lucia came down the stairs after stabbing Arturo, I noticed that her blood-stained dress (or, perhaps, that of an understudy) was one that we saw during our backstage tour of the Met. Our guide told us that paint is used to great effect on the costumes to show blood, mud, etc.

Altogether a magical evening! My knowledge of opera is limited, and I am, most certainly, not a music critic. I'm probably making a mess of this, but I'm giving you my impression of the evening, strictly an effort by a dilettante. (I joke that the word was coined for me, with my knowledge of a little bit about a lot of things.) However, our lecturer, who is an expert, thought that it was an excellent production, too.

Conductor - Joseph Colaneri
Normanno - Michael Myers
Lord Enrico Ashton - Mariusz
Raimundo - John Relyea
Lucia - Natalie Dessay
Alisa - Michaela Martens
Edgardo - Guiseppe Filianoti
Arturo - Stephen Costello

Picture from the New York Times.


  1. Well, Mimi, it looks like you had a great time! In reaction to your observation to the lack of male understanding of fragility---it wouldn't have been much of a story if the men thought of anyone but themselves ;-)

    As to the size of singers, yes small folks can sometimes surprise us with their powerful voices. Therese Stradas comes to mind. I saw her in 'La Traviata' with Domingo years ago. Quite powerful.

  2. it wouldn't have been much of a story if the men thought of anyone but themselves

    That's right, Susan, but I was caught up in the story and talking to the characters in my head, i. e., telling Enrico, "You save the family fortunes instead of sacrificing your sister!"

    Opera stories are often implausible, but no more implausible than real life, if you think about it.

    I did have a grand time.

  3. A favourite opera of mine, of course made memorable by having seen it sung by the wonderful Dame Joan Sutherland in our Opera House. Her photo hangs in my hall but she never looked fragile, quite the opposite, but her voice!!!! I never take too much notice of opera stories or one would tend to go into fits of laughter at the wrong parts of a tragedy:-)

  4. Brian, you were very fortunate. I believe that Joan Sutherland is a benchmark of sorts that other sopranos are set up against to measure their success in the role of Lucia.

  5. I like the "lay person in the pews" approach to recounting opera adventures. Much more accessible than hearing the experts lecture us. I am so glad you had a good time. We all need to be mesmerized now and again. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Paul, a few regular readers wanted a report, thus my "lay" opera review. It was truly a memorable experience.

    Our lecturer told us that he buys TWO season tickets to the Met each year, 14 operas a season. There is some overlap of operas, but he said the Met was good about allowing exchanges.


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