Monday, October 06, 2008

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR OR What I Did for Love...

Our old friend Sam Shirakawa gives his view of the Met's Lucia (keep them coming, Sam!):

Metropolitan Opera -- 3 October

If love can make you loony, there was plenty of lunacy to be found during the first fortnight of the Metropolitan's 125th season. On Friday 3 October Lucia di Lammermoor returned to the boards. It's the opera (1835), some critics claim, that restored the themes of transcendent love and death to lyric theater of the 19th century.

Gaetano Donizetti and his librettist Salvatore Cammarano stick fairly closely to the story Sir Walter Scott tells in The Bride of Lammermoor, but they amend some salient details. In the opera, for instance, Lucia is said to be extremely distraught over her mother's death. In Scott's novel (1819), Lucia's shrewish mother is very much alive and takes the lead in forcing her daughter to renounce her paramour and enter into an expedient marriage. In another deviation from the source, Donizetti's Lucia fatally stabs her bridegroom on their wedding night, while Scott's Lucy wounds Arthur Bucklaw seriously, but not fatally. The victim, pursuantly goes to some length in forbidding evermore the mere mention of the incident in his presence.

Why such emphatic entreaties for discretion?

Some surmise, perhaps correctly, that hapless Lucy, having become irreparably separated from her senses, attempts to separate her groom from his private parts. [How many sane women throughout the ages have done that?] In simply eliminating Bucklaw entirely, Donizetti and Cammarano saved countless impresarios from having to hire a castrato/counter-tenor for just one expository scene.

The Arturo, by the way, was the big surprise at the premiere. Sean Panikkar made a meal out of the bit-part and displayed a clarion lyric tenor that was nothing less than large. Blessed with musicality as resplendent as his voice, he brought his all-too-brief appearance into bold relief against some hefty competition from the lead singers.

Those who know, knew that Diana Damrau's Lucia would be good, but few could have guessed how much so. It took a moment or two for her to find her focus, but by the time she got around to the second verse of "Regnava nel silenzio" Damrau was well on her way to surpassing her immediate predecessor at the Met in the part -- vocally at least -- in this hold-over of last season's hotly hyped new production. Damrau traversed the fiortituri up and down the scale with the ease of a gold-medal skateboarder, and her top notes were uniformly bang-on. [Yes, all the high Cs and Ds have been restored, thank you very much.]

Dramatically, she still needs to decide what kind of heroine she wants to embody, but she appears to be working on it. The challenge lies in her genes: a German coloratura and then some, but she's on Italian turf. Berger was perhaps the most recent of that pedigree to assimilate this rep comfortably. And that was eons ago. If Damrau can succeed in making her Lucia sound easy and inevitable, she stands a chance of fading fond memories of Jaws, who owned the role from 1959 until her retirement.

Piotr Beczala as Edgardo was no real surprise either. Watch his stuff on YouTube. Do it in chronological order, and you'll see how rapidly he's developing into a contender. But enjoy him while you may: imbecilic agents and moronic managements have a way of wasting up-and-comers like Beczala or just ignoring them.

Vladimir Stoyanov made a likable debut as Lucia's dislikable brother Enrico. There is no doubt that a fine baritone, faintly reminiscent of Bastianini, has come among us. Fine as the basic equipment may be, it remains to be heard how refined an artist this Bulgarian can become.

The payroll was respectably rounded out by Ildar Abdrazakov, Ronald Naldi and Michaela Martens as Raimondo, Normanno and Alisa respectively.

Mary Zimmerman's production is arguably the most interesting Lucia seen at the Met in decades, but problems with Daniel Ostling's Adobe-driven sets continue to generate interminable intermissions. Adding a dubious lagniappe at the season premiere, the huge flying staircase refused to recede into the wings at the conclusion of Damrau's riveting Mad Scene. That left the poor lackeys carrying Lucia to the balcony holding the bag, so to speak, for what seemed an eternity. And that left the audience madly clapping and clapping and... Really, now, must any production of Lucia in this day and age of nifty hi-tech scene changes shlep on for nearly three hours and forty minutes?

Proceedings in the pit went much more fluidly. The orchestra under Marco Armilato performed miracles with a score that all too often falls prey to oom-pah-pah listlessness; sensational solo playing by harpist Mariko Anraku, flutist Stefan Ragnar Höskuldsson and Celia Breuer on glass armonico. Only Anraku, however, got to go home before the epic-length second intermission.

Sam H. Shirakawa

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