Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Luca Salsi as Enrico and Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia [Photo by Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera]
03 Apr 2015

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

A review by David Abrams

Above: Luca Salsi as Enrico and Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia

Photos by Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

 

There’s lots of life left in Mary Zimmerman’s handsomely staged and remarkably fresh Metropolitan Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor, which debuted in 2007 with Natalie Dessay in the title role and has been reprised here several times since.

There’s lots of life, too, in the voice of Albina Shagimuratova — the title character in the company’s 2015 reprisal that opened March 16.

From a purely visual perspective, Shagimuratova may not get everyone’s vote for the most persuasive Lucia to have populated a Zimmerman production — which besides Dessay has included Annick Massis, Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko. Nor is Shagimuratova likely to win any awards for best actor. But if the Russian soprano does not entirely look the part of the fragile vulnerable tragic heroine, she sure does sound it. Of the three Zimmerman Lucias I’ve heard to-date (Dessay, Netrebko and Shagimuratova), none has surpassed the sheer beauty and agility of the latter’s dramatic coloratura soprano.

Donizetti's opera, a perennial favorite since its Neapolitan premiere in 1835, is loosely based on Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor — the historical novelist's 1819 tale of a feuding pair of Scottish noble families, the Ravenswoods and the Lammermoors. (Zimmerman moves the setting a couple of hundred years forward to the Victorian Era.)

_F2A3059.pngJoseph Calleja as Edgardo

Lucia, utterly dominated by her manipulative brother Enrico (Luca Salsi), is forced to agree to an arranged marriage with Arturo (Matthew Plenk) — a wealthy nobleman with good political connections. Enrico is counting on Arturo to rescue him from financial ruin. Lucia, however, loves Edgardo (a Ravenswood, played by Joseph Calleja) and understandably keeps her ongoing rendezvous with her lover secret. When Enrico forges a letter to convince Lucia that Edgardo has abandoned her, the brokenhearted woman reluctantly agrees to the arranged marriage. Later, when Arturo takes his new bride to the bridal bedroom as the wedding guests party downstairs, Lucia goes mad and fatally stabs her new husband. Doused in blood and in the throes of vivid hallucinations, she sings the iconic Mad Scene.

The role of Lucia (Lucy Ashton in Scott's novel) demands more from the voice than Italian bel canto beauty of timbre to pull it off. The singer must have strength, stamina and a dependable top range (Donizetti wrote high Fs, though it’s customary for singers nowadays to transpose down to a more manageable E-flat).

Vocally, Shagimuratova has it all — as could be seen early on during the scene at the fountain in the woods outside Ravenswood Castle. Her delicate delivery and superb intonation in her opening numbers (Regnava nel silenzio and the Quando rapita in estasi that followed) put the listener on notice that there would be good things to come. Though one may challenge the merits of her Italian diction (Shagimuratova has an occasional tendency to close off the vowels when descending from high to low registers), there was never a loss of focus in her voice, or in its glimmering tone, throughout the register changes.

By the beginning of Act Two, the only remaining question was whether she would maintain this strength and stamina through the third act Mad Scene. (Spoiler alert: She did.) Shagimuratova remained in strong voice throughout this lengthy number, showing no signs of fatigue — and her final E-flat was firm and secure. She also produced several breathtaking moments with her whisper-quiet phrases.

If singing were all that mattered in opera, Shagimuratova would claim her spot among the most exciting sopranos on today's circuit. But opera is drama as well, and that's where she comes up short. After reading the forged letter, Shagimuratova's character needs to radiate an immediate sense of deep pathos at having been abandoned by Edgardo, yet her porcelain doll face appeared largely bereft of emotion. And at the dramatic moment when unexpectedly confronted by an accusatory Edgardo at the end of Act Two, Shagimuratova could only muster a look of bewilderment, not devastation.

_B5A5195.pngAlbina Shagimuratova as Lucia

The rest of the cast also fell short with respect to dramatic integrity, with the notable exception of Joseph Calleja — a consummate artist whose superb singing is just one component in a well-rounded artistic package.

Calleja, showing no apparent signs of the flu that affected his performance at the March 16 opening, sang the role as Lucia’s love interest with a handsome and deeply expressive tenor, radiating a steady stream of grief within the timbre of his voice.

Like Pavarotti and Juan Diego Flores, Calleja possesses a unique quality to his voice that cannot be mistaken for any other singer. His tenor exudes such a pronounced degree of emotion and nuance, it occasionally borders on maudlin. One such moment came as he bemoaned his situation at his father’s grave before the Sulla tomb ache rinserra, where Calleja’s whining seemed just a bit over the top. Still, any overacting on the part of the Maltese tenor proved a welcome contrast from the generally drab dramatic efforts of the other singing actors. (Only Salsi, I felt, was able to pull his weight.)

If the role of Lucia is defined by the Mad Scene, the role of Edgardo is defined by his singing and acting in the third act. And Calleja did not disappoint. His chilling confrontation with Salsi at the opening was gripping, and the tenor had plenty left for his final aria Tu che a Dio spiegasti, which he colored with wistful nuance of voice.

As Enrico, Luca Salsi appeared determined at all costs to project well throughout the large auditorium. Though his voice showed signs of strain at times, Salsi's powerful and fiery demeanor came through loud and clear throughout Act One. In the act that followed, his voice continued to tighten when threatening Lucia in Se tradirmi tu potrai, and he had some ensemble problems keeping in-sync with the orchestra. Still, Salsi's character was commanding and vengeful during his many confrontations with Lucia.

Alastair Miles, as Raimondo, sung the role as Lucia's tutor and protector with a pleasant, if largely under-projected, bass. Though he grew increasingly stronger as the performance unfolded, Miles's voice lacked the depth of what I consider a true bass, and he never sounded entirely comfortable in the low register during the Ah! Cedi, cedi, when he counsels Lucia to abandon Edgardo and accede to her brother’s wishes by marrying Arturo. The British bass's great number in Act Three (Dalle stanze, ove Lucia), where his character describes the horrifying sight of a dead Arturo with Lucia standing over him with a bloody knife, could have been more weighty.

Though Arturo doesn't get much time onstage, tenor Matthew Plenk sang his part with a sweet, lyric tenor well suited for bel canto. Perhaps the Met will give him more to do in the future.

Daniel Ostling's details-oriented set design — from the detailed park outside Ravenswood Castle to the impressive winding staircase — is one of the most striking components of the Zimmerman production. Lighting designer T.J. Gerckens's ever-so-gradual crescendo of light in the forest, as daybreak approaches the two lovers' hideaway outside the castle, was breathtakingly effective.

Conductor Maurizio Benini led a well prepared Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with workable tempos for the singers and suitably dramatic accompanied recitatives between arias. The celebrated flute solo played by Denis Bouriakov during the Mad Scene was quite lovely, especially in the duet cadenza for flute and voice. (This was actually interpolated into the opera some 50 years after its premiere, specifically for Nellie Melba.) Equally lovely was Mariko Anraku’s mellifluous first act harp interlude during the scene at the park, as Lucia waits Edgardo's appearance.

The men and women’s choruses were nicely sung during the celebrations at the castle, such as the Per te d’immenso giubilo and D’immenso giubilo, and they looked rather comfortable in Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld’s mid-19th century Victorian period outfits.

There was a lengthy delay to the start of Act Three following the second intermission. Eventually, an increasingly impatient audience began clapping in unison — prompting an official to come onstage and offer an explanation.

“There are many moving parts to the scenery, and we want to be sure everything is fastened," he announced. "Please be patient for another five minutes.”

After an additional 10 minutes or so, a second round of unison clapping swept across the theater until, finally, the show got underway. Good thing. Another five minutes and 2,500 more people would have gone mad.

David Abrams

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):