Producer Simon Stone provides a modern take on Donizetti’s classic opera and, putting the occasional embellishment aside, delivers one of the most complete operatic productions of the season.
Fallen on hard times, Enrico (Artur Ruciński) has arranged an advantageous marriage for his sister, Lucia (Nadine Sierra), but Normanno (Alok Kumar) reveals that she is in love with Enrico’s enemy, Edgardo (Javier Camarena). As Lucia and Alisa (Deborah Nansteel) wait for Edgardo, Lucia reveals a recent dream which Alisa interprets as a portent of doom. When Edgardo arrives, he explains that he has to leave on a mission and he and Lucia exchange vows.
Normanno obtains forged evidence to suggest that Edgardo is involved with another woman and when Enrico shows it to Lucia, she is heartbroken and agrees to marry Arturo (Eric Ferring), but as she signs the marriage contract, Edgardo bursts in and outraged, he curses Lucia and tearing his ring from her finger, leaves her in despair.
Whilst Enrico challenges Edgardo to a duel at dawn, Raimondo (Christian Van Horn) interrupts the wedding party with unexpected news. What follows is the epitome of this tale of hopeless love.
There is much debate about dramatic reinterpretation and whilst there is much to commend the retention of traditional form, there is a strong argument for engaging with new audiences. Donizetti’s 19th C masterpiece is a contemporaneous tale and works equally well here in a depressed rustbelt town in the heart of America plagued by crime, apathy, and addiction, which is immediately recognisable and believable, lending itself to better performances from the cast as a result.
The journey from hope and aspiration to the depths of despair is cleverly told through intricate stage design by Lizzie Clachan which uses a turntable to keep the action, scene, and story unfolding as we weave through a grim downtown replete with drug and liquor stores, motel, pawnshop, and the all-American drive-in cinema: yes, we have engaged with modern opera’s current fad of cars on stage but here it is at least relevant. Supported by costume designers Alice Babidge and Blanca Añón, there’s no doubt about where we are and it ain’t a nice place.
I’m yet to be convinced about the use of AV other than as a gimmick, and whilst I sort of get what Stone is trying to achieve by showing us in parallel other aspects of Lucia’s life, with such an intricate stage on offer I would have preferred to have let it unfold more naturally, especially when the split-level house provides that immediate opportunity.
All the cast are in excellent voice with perfect performances too. Van Horn was a late replacement due to cast indisposition and deserves much credit for not looking out of place amongst a strong leading cast. The orchestra conducted by Riccardo Frizza perform in unison with the voices, their pace and tempo matching each unfolding part, with energy and emotion, passion and tension.
Ruciński and Camarena are cleverly cast as opposite sides of the same dime; Ruciński gives a hard, powerful performance of a hoodlum riddled with addiction, angst and anger; in contrast Camarena’s golden voice shows sensitive emotion and passion.
At the heart is the beautiful Sierra who sings even more beautifully, defining her Lucia with a childish innocence tinged by hopes of a brighter future filled with love and opportunity in a heart-breaking performance. When her dreams are well and truly extinguished, she delivers a mesmerising breakdown. She cried in her closing scene as we applauded and cried with her too.
The Metropolitan Opera are now live streaming many of their productions, further details https://www.metopera.org/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 21st May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★