Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo: Michael Cooper
A disturbed young girl who is molested by her brother; a blustering nobleman on the verge of losing everything and molests his sister; a heroic lord; a buffoonish lord who is willing to marry the disturbed girl. The forced marriage to save a family’s honour and the young lady going mad for not being allowed to marry the man she loves and the enemy of her family, all sound familiar. Lucia di Lammermoor, no? But the rest – where did that come from?
The Canadian Opera Company has found a production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor that is a brilliant and disturbing interpretation of the work; a psychodrama, a dream sequence, an original and stunning approach to a very familiar work. Take whatever view you wish, this is a Lucia like you have never seen before.
We all know that Lucia opens on the grounds of a castle where Normanno (Adam Luther) and his men are chasing an intruder. They are joined by Enrico (Brian Mulligan) who explains that he is on the verge of losing everything unless his sister Lucia (Anna Christy) marries Arturo (Nathaniel Peake).
When the curtain goes up at the Four Seasons Centre, we see a young girl sleeping in a child’s bed and there is a man seated at a desk nearby. The girl wakes up startled. We see Normanno and the chorus through the windows of the room looking for the intruder.
What is director David Alden up to? He re-imagines Lucia as a psychological drama; he recreates some of the characters into people most of us never thought belonged to this opera and in the end gives us a production that many people may find disturbing but in the end is simply stunning and thrilling opera.
Lucia and Enrico - Photo: Chris Hutcheson
Christy as Lucia is a frightened young girl and the entire action may well be a dream or a nightmare that she is having. She is or imagines being in love with Edgardo (Stephen Costello), her brother’s archenemy. The two meet but their expression of love is awkward and child-like. It smacks of puppy love imagined by the emotionally disturbed Lucia. Far more realistic and terrifying is her relationship with her brother Enrico. He clearly lusts for her and molests her. This is more realistic because Lucia has experienced it as opposed to her love for Enrico which may be an escapist figment of her immature imagination.
She is forced to marry Arturo, an egotistical dandy and an ass, whom she murders on their first night. What follows is the famous Mad Scene and again we see the mind of a brilliant director at work. Forget the grand staircase or other dramatic entrances seen in other productions. Only Enrico and Lucia’s companion Alisa (Sasha Djihanian) are on the stage when she enters. She is soon left alone; she does not need the guests until the choral part makes them essential. Lucia goes through the scene and the curtain in the castle’s stage behind her opens and we see Arturo’s blood-soaked body. That is a coup de théâtre, if there ever was one!
Alden has created countless details to present a convincing account of his interpretation. From Lucia playing with dolls, to her brother playing with toys, to her remaining seated after she is supposed to have died (hence the suggestion of a nightmare), to the positioning of characters on the stage, this is a production that is meticulously planned and executed.
The singing is splendid. Christy’s voice sounded childlike in the opening scene and there were moments when I thought it would crack. I quickly realized that it was intentional – she sang like a disturbed child that on occasion walked on her knees. That voice is dropped and by the time she gets to the Mad Scene she unleashes powerful and dramatic singing.
Costello has a wonderful tenor voice and he leaps across octaves as Edgardo. He is heroic vocally and physically and in the end when he is about to die, very moving. A true heroic tenor.
Oren Gradus, at the other end of the vocal range made an impressive Raimondo. He sang with affecting resonance as the Chaplain who represents duty and obedience.
Baritone Brian Mulligan made a truly loathsome Enrico, the selfish and self-righteous nobleman who is prepared to force his sister into a marriage to a disgusting person. He had a rocky start but eventually settled into a fine vocal rendering.
This production was originally created for the English National Opera in 2008. I saw it on what may be considered a bad night. Christy was recovering from bronchitis, bass Clive Bayley lost his voice in mid-performance and had to be replaced by a singer who sang from the side of the stage while Bayley mouthed the words and took care of the physical action. The production was sung in English which make me pay attention to the unsingable translation instead of the interpretation. I found that performance bold and innovative but did not enjoy it.
None of the above applied to the COC production and the opera was sung in its original Italian.
Lucia came back to life, so to speak, in the 1950’s when Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland showed what can be done with bel canto operas. Alden now shows that there is more to Lucia than great opportunities for sopranos, together with its outstanding arias and ensemble pieces and of course a Mad Scene and an unforgettable sextet. They are all there but there is also a psychodrama that will simply take your breath away.____
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti opened on April 17 and will be performed nine times until May 24, 2013 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671. www.coc.ca