If you like old-school opera, then Opéra de Montréal’s Lucia di Lammermoor is just the thing to lift you out of the earlier-than-normal Montreal snow-cold blues. Donizetti’s opera is one of the epitomes of traditional opera fare: a highly dramatic plot about gargantuan passions, lots of testosterone and blood, a young woman without agency who goes “mad” and commits suicide (sorry, spoiler!), surprise and remorse from the characters left alive (really?!!), and stupendous music with astounding vocal agility. Oh, and throw in a dash of the supernatural, at least in this production. Viola! It’s all here.
If you suspect a bit of mockery in the above, I confess there is a bit, but only a wee bit. More on that later.
This production has all the ingredients for a wonderfully straight-forward night at the opera: realistic and period-like sets and costumes, atmospheric lighting, realistic staging, and most importantly no overriding directorial concept or gimmick—well, one, but that too is for later. All this is meant to concentrate on the music and vocal abilities of the singers, as is de rigueur for the bel canto style. And there are some WOW moments.
WOW #1: Kathleen Kim (Korea/USA) as Lucia. Kim has a clear and clean tone along with the virtuosic ability to handle the vocal acrobatics required for the coloratura soprano role of Lucia. She makes this most difficult part look easy. She appropriately plays Lucia as a young woman at the boundary of childhood and adult life, caught between the full throttle of rapturous first love and the machinations of her selfish and unkind brother. This child-like quality seems to come through in her vocal production as well—and I do not mean this as a negative—which makes her tragic ending all the more acute. The famed and much anticipated “mad scene” is a tour de force, and Kim takes us on the emotional and vocal rollercoaster with skill and passion.
WOW #2: Local tenor Frédéric Antoun as Edgardo. Antoun has not sung with the OdM for a number of years as he has been off making an international name for himself. Rightfully so. He commands a full and lush sound capable of refined lyricism. His portrayal of the impetuous and headstrong Edgardo is full of energy and pathos. In the final scene where he contemplates his death, particularly in the aria “Frà poco a me ricovero”, his performance forces one to catch their breath in a kind of operatic schadenfreude: sadness for the character yet thrill for the performer.
The rest of the cast and chorus give excellent performances, and the orchestra under the baton of Fabrizio Ventura (Italy) is in good form despite a momentarily rocky start to the Prelude.
So, why my wee mockery? You have perhaps picked up that I do not write “old-school” or “traditional” with a positive connotation. As good as this production is, would I recommend it to someone new to opera or classical singing? Not really. It will reinforce many of the negatives that people have about opera, a fusty medium caught in amber. Should not one of the goals of any opera company be to entice new audiences, younger audiences, audiences who demand relevance? This is not my first Lucia. I will remember the good singing, but the production and its mise en scène will blend into all the other traditional Lucias I have seen. It will disappear into its sameness.
Old-schoolers do not like gimmicky opera (also known as Eurotrash because European opera houses love to mess with traditions). Canadian Michael Cavanagh kept the staging mostly in a stand and sing manner, very presentational (as in the singers at times sing for long periods directly to the audience). I do not wish to imply that this should never be used. There are moments in every opera when the best approach is to let the music and lyrics speak for themselves. Lucia has a number of such moments. The sextet and choral finale to the second act, “Chi mi frena in tal momento”, is a marvelous example. It does, however, strain the visual and dramatic patience when there is so much of it.
Cavanagh’s one directorial gimmick—let’s call it a concept—of adding the ghosts of characters is a good idea but does not work well until the end of the opera. In the first act, Lucia speaks about a young girl who died at the very fountain she is to meet Edgardo. The ghost of this young girl appears ever so briefly, walking in, standing for a moment, then walking out. Edgardo mentions his dead father in the same scene and the ghost of his father pops up from behind a sarcophagus and then disappears immediately. It looks like a game of ghost whack-a-mole. The ghost of the young girl appears a few times throughout the opera, but again too briefly that it either renders the moment comical or does not give us time to see and register it. This occurs at the final moments of the first act, where she appears suddenly and stands behind part of the set while the curtain is quickly falling. Blink and you miss it.
To Cavanagh’s credit, the addition of Lucia returning as a ghost at the end of the opera, holding the dead Edgardo in a pietà moment, was touching and beautiful. Other ghosts appear with her: Arturo whom Lucia has killed on their wedding night, the girl from the fountain, Edgardo’s father, and presumably Lucia’s mother who died just before the plot of the opera started and is mentioned a number of times. They look down on the scene of Edgardo’s suicide, adding to the extreme pathos of the moment. Unfortunately, Kim futzing with her veil lessened the impact.
Opéra de Montréal presents Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
In the original Italian with English and French subtitles
November 9, 12, 14, 17
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier – Place des Arts
175 Saint-Catherine St, Montreal, QC H2X 1Y9
(514) 842-2112 | www.operademontreal.com
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