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Susanna Phillips as Lucia and Giuseppe Filianoti as Edgardo [Photo by Dan Rest]
18 Nov 2011

Lucia di Lammermoor, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor as its second production of the current season with Susanna Phillips taking on the role of the heroine torn between romantic love and familial pressures.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Click here for cast and other information.

Above: Susanna Phillips as Lucia and Giuseppe Filianoti as Edgardo [Photo by Dan Rest]


In the performance seen René Barbera replaced the indisposed tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in the lead role of Lucia’s lover Edgardo. Baritone Quinn Kelsey sang the role of Lucia’s brother Lord Enrico Ashton and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn the role of Raimondo. By coincidence in this performance all four lead roles were assumed by past or current members of the Ryan Opera Center. The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus were conducted by Massimo Zanetti in his debut season.

During the overture soft light shone through a blue scrim which returned and was varied at select points during the subsequent scenes. The woodwinds contributed notably to a generally well led performance of the overture, although the percussion was at times overly loud and pauses could be better seamed together. The male voices in the initial scene created a strong impression, one which remained consistent throughout the performance. As Normanno sung with urgent appeal by baritone Paul Scholten leads a search party to find Edgardo of Ravenswood, the male chorus members and Enrico join the group. In his aria and cabaletta Quinn Kelsey gave a nuanced and authoritative performance, clearly defining the venal character of Lucia’s brother. “Cruda, funesta smania” was sung with a true sense of line and color to emphasize words such as “horribile.” The cabaletta “La pietade in suo favore” proceeded naturally with well chosen vocal decoration, pitches sung flat to give additional emphasis, and effective top notes. The voice of Mr. Van Horn, so vital later in these performances, added here to the ensemble with chorus where his impressive range gave memorable support to the effect of the group.

In the second scene of Act One Lucia and Edgardo make their initial impressions, the heroine appearing before being joined by her outlawed suitor. As she relates to her confidante Alisa the tale of violence between lovers in an earlier generation of the Ravenswood clan, Lucia sings “Regnava nel silenzio” and claims to have seen the spirit of the dead girl at the fountain. As the narrative unfolds Ms. Phillips characterizes Lucia’s emotions by modulating her voice between full and hushed. In the second half of the scene showcasing the cabaletta “Quando rapito in estasi” Phillips drew on especially secure vocal decoration, as she negotiated the aria with all the repeats taken. Barbera’s Edgardo blended well with Phillips in their subsequent duet, his voice taking on a more declamatory tone when he sang solo lines. The exchange of rings and promise of future letters was sworn by both singers with lyrically believable tenderness.

The second act of this production was performed after the first without pause. Although the scene now changes to the interior of Enrico’s study, a stylized tree from the previous act staged outdoors can now be seen as through a window. The emotions attendant on that earlier scene drift into a conflict accelerating between Lucia and her brother: he insists in the confrontation here depicted that she marry Arturo Bucklaw in order to save the Ashton family. Both singers showed a skilled application of bel canto technique in their interaction, just as their dramatic outbursts were vocally in character. Once Enrico leaves her alone, Lucia is comforted and advised by Raimondo. Surely a highlight of this production was Mr. Van Horn’s performance of the aria “Ah, cedi, cedi,” a piece which has so often been cut from stagings of Lucia. Here Raimondo relies on humane persuasion and a tone of religious authority to convince Lucia that she should follow Enrico’s suggestion. Van Horn’s sonorous line and excellent low notes were matched in his cabaletta by a lightness and rhythmic sensitivity where noticeable articulation led to an impressively dramatic close. In the final scene of Act Two with all the principals on the stage the bridal couple is prepared for the wedding ceremony in festive attire. In assuming the role of Arturo Bucklaw Bernard Holcomb brought a good sense of diction and legato phrasing to his lines. Once the true beloved Edgardo reappeared, the sextet was performed with uniform commitment and individual voices soaring at appropriate moments. As Edgardo cursed Lucia’s perfidy the act concluded in a well staged ensemble. Van Horn’s thrilling calls of “Pace” sounded ever more futile as the enmity between Enrico and Edgardo predominated to the close.

Lyric Opera’s production of Lucia includes the scene outside the tower of Wolf’s Crag and hence divides Act Three into a trio of significant parts. In the first of these identified traditionally with the location Edgardo and Enrico confront each other on the grounds of the Ravenswood family estate. As they sang the duet (“Qui del padre ancora respira”) both Kelsey and Barbera chose decoration judiciously and allowed their characters to be defined by dramatic technique and a firm sense of legato. The growing rage between the two men and their assignation for a duel in the final scene helped clarify the plot and presents strong arguments for including the scene regularly in stagings of the opera. In the second scene the two major arias were sung with a memorable sense of integration into the dramatic flow. During the wedding festivities Raimondo bursts in to announce that Lucia has murdered her husband Arturo (“Dalle stanze ove Lucia”). Van Horn’s intonation in the aria expressed his horror at the discovery, just as his delivery of “infelice” followed by splendid top notes communicated Lucia’s state of madness to the revelers. When the heroine appears at the top of a precipitous staircase to sing the mad scene (“Il dolce suono”) Ms. Phillips acted and sang as one possessed. The effect of her fluid, secure delivery of the runs, trills, and roulades in this vocal challenge gave her Lucia the freedom to express visions and emotions in movement as well. Her ghostly singing of high notes pianissimo, punctuated with pitches delivered and held flat to enhance the sense of instability, added to this interpretation of a complex mental state. In the final scene of the opera Edgardo awaits Lucia’s brother in order to fight the duel that was agreed upon in the first part of this act. Mr. Barbera’s stylish delivery of the famous tenor aria (“Fra poco a me ricovero”) showed a supple approach with a welcome ring to high notes, as he ended the piece by taking the opportunity for introspective singing piano. When he realizes that Lucia has died and witnesses her funeral procession, Barbera inflected his cabaletta with wrenching emotion before stabbing himself to join his beloved in death.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for a photo gallery and other information regarding this production.

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