Monday, November 21, 2011

Lucia Remains Indestructible

It had been a long time since I last had seen Lucia di Lammermoor,  a gem of the late bel canto school that has long been a staple of the opera repertory since Donizetti composed it in 1835.  I suppose it's pretty awful when you can't recall who you heard sing it at the Met some years ago, but I know it wasn't Joan Sutherland. I would definitely have remembered her.

Despite the idiotic plot--even by opera standards--the opera works.  Perhaps it's because in addition to the very famous Mad Scene (best described as the next-to-last scene because they mess around with how many acts there are), the composer wrote a whole bunch of other wonderful melodies that allow each of the four principal voices a chance to shine. I was lucky enough to go twice, once for the dress rehearsal and then with friends from out of town for a regular performance a week later.

The opera is based on Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor, a potboiler of the 19th century which, I learned from the program, was based on a real story, which is too bad, because the events are grim--a young bride forced into marriage against her will with a rich guy to save her brother's estate which he stole from the tenor with whom she is in love--get it?   The performances I saw were balanced--sopranos were good, including in the slightly differently orchestrated Mad Scene, where an ancient instrument called a glass armonica was used instead of the traditional solo flute accompanying the coloratura in her trills and scales; second tenor was better than the first, but first baritone, Michael Chioldi, who plays Enrico, the miserable brother, was superb, a fact missed by the Washington Post, which spent most of the review decrying the production.

The production presumes a ruined estate so it is spare but with all kinds of unnecessary effects added in, apparently to distract you from the plot.  There's a bed for the girlish Lucia which looks like a crib and they appear to tie her up at one point; there are also unwarranted hints of incest and the ending, where the tenor commits suicide, is confused. The music is so good--I've been humming it for the past two weeks--that none of that matters a bit. One can't say that there's much humor in this kind of opera, but I never see it without reflecting on how the wedding has to be the worst one ever, and the luckless wealthy bridegroom seems so cocky and confident--and totally unaware of what awaits him the moment he reaches the wedding bedroom.


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