The Dallas Opera
Conductor: Graeme Jenkins
Stage Director: Garnett Bruce
Assistant Director: Brain Leudloff
Scenic Designer: Henry Bardon
Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall
Lighting Designer: Marie Barrett
Wig and Make-up Design: David Zimmerman
Fight Choreography: Bill Lengfelder
Chorus Master: Alexander Rom
Flute Obbligato: Helen Blackburn
Production Stage Manager: Bethany Ann Wright
Normanno: Scott Wuinn
Lord Enrico Ashton: Luca Grassi
Raimondo Bedebent: Jordan Bisch
Lucia Ashton: Elena Mosuc
Alisa: Cynthia Hanna
Edgardo RAvenwood: Bryan Hymet
Lord Arturo Bucklaw: Aaron Blake
Reviewed Performance 10/21/2011
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The word that comes to mind to best describe The Dallas Opera's production of Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor is - Opulent.
As the curtain rises the audience holds its breath. Before us is a scene straight out of Rembrandt Painting. Granted, Rembrandt is Dutch and the Opera takes place in Scotland, but the chiaroscuro effect and the period correct clothing immediately transforms the audience to another era. The attention to every detail in costuming, wigs, set, props, is perfect. If one is to see a classical opera performed in a classical way without any modern interpretations added, then this Lucis di Lammermoor is a must.
This tragic love story is quite simple and straightforward. Lord Enrico is forcing his sister Lucia to marry a man she does not love. Her affections are with Edgardo, but familial duty requires her to marry Lord Arturo. She is put under so much pressure to do so, and is fooled into believing that her true love Edgardo has been unfaithful to her that she goes mad. She ends up murdering Arturo on her wedding night, then after delivering one of the most complicated arias in opera history, she collapses dead. Edgardo upon finding out about her death then stabs himself.
This opera is considered one of the best ever written for a good reason. It is truly a "Bel Canto" Opera, which for laymen means it's an opera that is beautiful to hear yet exceedingly difficult to perform. The music is haunting, chill inducing, and simply gorgeous. While it doesn't have an aria that is instantly recognizable by the general public as most of Puccini's operas, this composition of Donizetti is nonetheless near perfection. You won't be leaving the opera humming any of the "tunes" but the overall effect of the music will haunt you.
Because this opera is so difficult to perform it requires top level talent to be able to do all the vocal pyrotechnics required. Most of the cast is making its Dallas Opera debut, and every singer is up to the monumental challenge.
Because the singing is so exceedingly difficult some of the acting falls short. The singers tend to concentrate on delivering the notes and as a result some of the characterization vanishes from time to time. I say this might be a detriment to this production, but when you hear Lucia di Lammermoor being sung so well it is easy to overlook acting that at times may not be stellar.
Each performer has their moment in the spotlight and delivers. Because there are so many solo moments it's up to the performer to convince us, and in each of the solos they do resoundingly. It is in the group scenes, which require character interplay and subtext, where the performers have the most difficulty in making the relationships believable. In Act 1 where Lucia and her beloved Edgardo profess their love to one another, the scene feels very much as if they are "acting" at being in love, versus truly "being" in love. This said, one only need close ones eyes and hear the way they sing to believe every note of love they profess.
Fortunately the key moments in the opera are done as solos and it is during those moments that the performances become completely believable.
Elena Mosuc's Lucia is much more energetic then other versions I've seen. When she finally goes insane, instead of slowly moving around the stage like a ghost (as it's mentioned in the libretto) the entire time, her movements pick up speed till she becomes like a maniacal and possessed spirit. It makes her exceedingly dangerous and adds an edge to this character I've never seen before. She makes this very long passage, with her mimicking the bird calls from an expertly played flute Obbligato by Helen Blackburn, bone chilling. It's gorgeous to hear but frightening. The entire Opera hinges on this scene and Ms. Mosuc delivers it with aplomb.
Curiously enough, because so much focus is put on the mad scene, and it serves as the climax of the Opera, one is quick to forget that there is another scene right after - the suicide of Edgardo. In past productions I've seen, this long scene feels almost like a required denouement so as to wrap up the story. But it isn't. If done well, it creates a double climax. Bryan Hymel's performance of Edgardo proves without a doubt why this scene is so important. It is hard to compete and follows what is arguably one of the most show-stopping moments in any Opera. But this last scene as sung and acted by Mr. Hymel proves how key it is, and in fact, is nearly able to trump Lucia's death. His passion in the role and in this moment creates a devastating effect and leaves the audience in mourning.
Both Elena Mosuc and Bryan Hymel deserve the multiple curtain calls and standing ovation for their performances.
But one can't overlook the rest of the cast. Luca Grassi as Enrico, Lucia's Brother, is villainous, but not in a stereotypical way. He convinces us in his desire to keep the family's fortunes in place by marrying off his sister to Arturo. While we may not like him, we understand him.
Arturo is played by Aaron Blake. I have criticized Mr. Blake in the past for his lack of volume, though as an actor he is superb. This time around he nails it. Every gorgeous note of his tenor voice is heard and felt.
Cynthia Hanna as Alisa, Lucia's companion, and Scott Quinn as Normanno have smaller roles in this production yet make every moment of their presence felt. Hopefully the Dallas Opera will bring them back for future performances.
The other performance of the evening that truly captivate is that of Raimondo, a chaplain, as played by Jordan Bisch. It isn't just his stunning bass voice that enthralls, but his characterization. His internal turmoil as witness of the proceedings is palpable. I note that when he appears for his curtain call the audience which is already applauding loudly and beginning to vocalize and cheer "Bravo." There's a reason for this - his performance merits it.
Garnett Bruce, as the stage director, is able to bring this Opera to life. Lucia di Lammermoor is a very static opera. There aren't many action sequences. It makes it difficult for any director to capture the audience's attention, having singers stand and sing for such long passages. Yet he was able to create such striking visuals and compositions that it keeps the audience's eyes glued to every moment on the stage. I especially like his staging and the direction of the chorus. This opera has moments with over 40 performers on stage yet he is able to create stage pictures that flow. The chorus is no longer just a bunch of people on stage but it too becomes an additional character as they react in unison with gestures and movements, creating an entity just as important as the soloist on stage.
The chorus is guided by the master Alexander Rom. I have poured accolades on this chorus master in the past, and just when I think he can't top himself, he does it again, as is the case in this Opera. The Chorus work alone makes this opera worth seeing, that's how good it is.
I must commend Graeme Jenkins, the conductor. There is vigor to his conducting. The orchestra is at times resoundingly loud when it should be, and lyrically delicate at other points. Under his guidance in this production he rivals anything the Dallas Symphony has ever done. His conducting is inspiring. Lastly, I must note that it is sad to know that Peter J. Hall is no longer with us. His costuming in this opera and almost every other opera I've seen him costume is world class. This Opera, of all the ones I've seen him costume, is perhaps his best work. Seeing the beauty of his designs on stage is a poignant reminder that the theatrical arts have lost one of the geniuses of the art form.
If you want to experience a classical Opera done well, this is the production to go see.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
The Dallas Opera
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through November 6th, 2011.
Wednesday, October 26 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, October 29 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 pm
Tickets are from $25.
For tickets and information, call 214-443-1000 or go to www.dallasopera.org