19 Oct 2012

Lucia di Lammermoor at Arizona Opera

The role of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was written for Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani who lived from 1812 to 1867.

The daughter of the famous Italian tenor and cellist, Nicola Tacchinardi, Fanny began working on her vocal technique in childhood. Eventually she became associated with the music of bel canto composers, such as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and the young Verdi. In 1832, she made her stage debut at Livorno and she soon appeared in major Italian cities singing major roles in operas such as Tancredi, La gazza ladra, Il pirata, and L’elisir d’amore.

When Donizetti heard her in 1833, he described her voice as “rather cold, but quite accurate and perfectly in tune.” He chose her to create title roles in three of his operas: Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Pia de’ Tolomei, and Lucia di Lammermoor. Her voice has elsewhere been described as sweet and light with a brilliant upper register. We know that she had remarkable agility and that she could sing a given aria several times in succession, each time with a different cadenza. It seems that she caused an unfortunate dispute during the rehearsals for the Lucia premiere. Donizetti wrote that she made a fuss, which terrified tenor Gilbert Duprez, because she wanted the last scene of the opera to be sung by the soprano, not the tenor.

Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896), the French tenor famous for pioneering the delivery of an operatic high C from the chest, created the role of Edgardo in Lucia. Having made his debut as Count Almaviva in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia in Paris in 1825, a few years later he decided to try his luck in Italy. There, the operatic scene was more active and he found work even though he preferred to sing operas in which there were few elaborate coloratura passages. In 1831, Duprez took part in the first Italian performance of Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell and, for the first time during the performance of an opera, he sang a high C full voice, not in the so-called falsetto register as was usual at that time. After that, his success was assured in Italy. By 1835, when he sang Edgardo at the world premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples, his reputation was well established. He also sang leading roles in other Donizetti premieres such as La favorite, Les Martyrs, and Dom Sébastien. In 1851, he made his last public appearance as Edgardo at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris. By that time his high C from the chest had become a standard feature of operatic singing. His legacy was the tenore di forza, a direct ancestor of today’s dramatic tenor.

Domenico Cosselli (1801-1855) was an Italian bass-baritone most often associated with the florid singing of Rossini’s operas. For Donizetti, however, he created: Olivo in Olivo e Pasquale, Azzo in Parisina, and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. He was one of the first singers to make the transition from the old concept of a bass to what we know today as a baritone, a voice type that in 1835 was still in its infancy. He gave the role of Enrico a new dimension that looked forward to the idea of the Verdi baritone.

On Saturday evening October 13, Arizona Opera presented Lucia di Lammermoor in a traditional production with sets by Robert R. O’Hearn that was originally seen at Florida Grand Opera. Fenlon Lamb, who has sung mezzo-soprano roles on the opera stage, directed it in Arizona. She told Lucia’s sad tale in a most realistic manner. Some might have questioned her use of an actress to embody the ghost that Lucia says she sees at the fountain, but it did underline the young woman’s desperate mental state. The attractive, detailed costumes from A.T. Jones and Sons were correct for the time and place. Douglas Provost’s evocative lighting added much to the show’s gothic ambience.

The Lucia was Stacy Tappan, who sang one of the Rhine Maidens in the recent Los Angeles Ring of the Nibelungen. Hers is a substantial lyric coloratura voice and she has the technical resources to follow in the steps of singers like Tacchinardi Persiani. Joseph Wolverton was a romantic Edgardo who sang with a secure line. The surprise of the evening was the Enrico of Mark Walters. He sang his first scene aria, “Cruda, funesta smania”, with powerful low tones and thrilling top notes. Jordan Bisch, who has a dark, dense voice, made an auspicious debut as Raimondo, the minister who tries to make peace between the families. Samuel Levine was an appropriately smarmy Normanno and Laura Wilde a dramatic Alisa. David Margulis, whom I last heard as an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera, was a radiant voiced Arturo who held his own in the beautifully sung sextet. The chorus is most important in this opera and, thanks to the hard work of Henri Venanzi, Arizona Opera has a truly first class choral group. They acted individually and sang their harmonies with exquisite precision. Steven White conducted at a brisk pace, never letting the tension sag in the least. He shaped the orchestral sound so as to bring out every color and detail of Donizetti’s magnificent score. This was a fine performance and an auspicious opening for Arizona Opera’s 2012-2013 season.

Maria Nockin


Lucia: Stacy Tappan; Edgardo: Joseph Wolverton; Enrico: Mark Walters; Raimondo: Jordan Bisch; Normanno: Samuel Levine; Arturo: David Margulis; Alisa: Laura Wilde; Conductor: Steven White; Director: Fenlon Lamb; Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi; Set Designer: Robert R. O’Hearn; Costumes: A.T. Jones and Sons; Lighting Design: Douglas Provost.