Recently in Performances
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
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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.
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
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.
Click here for a photo gallery and other information regarding this production.