Lucia di Lammermoor, Festival Opera

Written by:
Suzanne Weiss
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Lucia di Lammermoor

Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
After a novel by Sir Walter Scott
Festival Opera, Walnut Creek
August 7-15, 2010

Brian Leerhuber (Enrico) and Angela Cadelago (Lucia)
in Festival Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”
Photo by Robert Shomler

Blighted love, an overbearing brother and a forced marriage of political convenience – it’s enough to drive a girl out of her mind. And that’s what it does to Lucia, the hapless heroine of Donizetti’s tragic opera, “Lucia di Lammermoor.” The famed mad scene is what people wait to see in this Scottish tale of clan enmity and love gone awry but, in Festival Opera’s current production, you don’t have to wait until the third act. From Lucia’s first entrance, early on in Act I, there is a hint that this lady is teetering on the edge. While waiting for a clandestine meeting with her lover Edgardo, sworn enemy to her brother and the entire Ashton clan, Lucia (Angela Cadelago) tells a ghost story to her companion Alicia (Patrice Houston). Once, long ago, a young girl was murdered on the very spot where they sit and thrown into the fountain nearby. Lucia, herself, claims to have seen her ghost, and the glint in her eye and hysteria of her demeanor are a nice foreshadowing of what is to come.

Cadelago gives it everything she’s got and she’s one of the best things about this production. The other two are baritone Brian Leerhuber as her brother Enrico – the Act II extended duet between the two is a musical highlight – and the orchestra, under Festival Opera Artistic and Musical Director Michael Morgan, which gave a consistently sensitive reading of the score. Tenor Thomas Glenn, as Edgardo, was another, particularly in the final scene of the opera – but more of that later – and basso Kirk Eichelberger was a properly dignified and stentorian tutor.

So much for the good news. While the costumes, furnished by a Toronto costume house,  were sumptuous, the set design (by Peter Crompton) looked like something out of Disney by the way of Hogwarts School for Wizards. It was improved only slightly in the second act with the addition of a chandelier and table and chairs. The large chorus sang well but was so hemmed in by that set that movement was next to impossible. What movement there was, clansmen clapping one another on the shoulder during a discussion of revenge and, in the wedding scene, an attempt at dancing, was hackneyed, static and frankly pitiful. I know it is difficult to manage a large cast on a relatively small stage but director Mark Foehringer might have been able to figure out a better way.

Duets and smaller ensembles moved much better and the sextet, when Edgardo learns of Lucia’s marriage to another (without knowing that she was fooled and forced into signing the contract), was genuinely moving. That famous mad scene soon follows. Lucia, unhinged by Edgardo’s contempt and faced with a stranger (the rather personable and good looking Michael Foreman as Arturo) on her wedding night, stabs the bridegroom and stumbles down the stairs in her blood-spattered nightgown as the wedding guests look on in horror. What ensues is the litmus test of any coloratura soprano and Cadelago nailed it, the occasionally excessive vibrato in her voice serving her well in this case.

While the mad scene is everybody else’s favorite, my choice always has been the brief coda to the piece, when Edgardo learns of his beloved’s death and decides to follow her to heaven. The final tenor aria “tu che a Dio spiegasti”  is one of the most beautiful melodies Donizetti – or anyone, for that matter – has ever penned. In spite of a slight cough that plagued him in the beginning of the scene, Glenn delivered it beautifully.

This 1835 masterpiece is, along with Bellini’s “Norma,” one of the crown jewels of the bel canto repertoire. The music is simply gorgeous. While the Festival Opera edition may not shine as brightly as some others, it has sufficient luster to make it worth a look.

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