Sunday, May 19, 2024


Curtain Call at Regina Opera for Lucia di Lammermoor

It is quite a trek from Manhattan to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn but last night's performance of Donizetti's gothic tragedy Lucia di Lammermoor made the trip worthwhile, since this is one of our favorite operas. The latest iteration at The Metropolitan Opera left us with a bad taste in our mouth, staging the opera ridiculously in the Rust Belt of the USA in contemporary times. Although the singing was stellar we sat in anger wondering why the poor girl did not just get a bus ticket and leave her controlling brother! Fortunately, Stage Director Sabrina Palladino honored the libretto by sticking to Scotland in the late 17th c., a time of political turmoil and clan rivalry. 

Salvatore Cammarano's libretto, based somewhat on a Sir Walter Scott novel,  resonates with us today since it shows the enormous personal cost of tribal rivalry and the subjugation of women. Poor Lucia (the stunning coloratura soprano Makila Kirchner) is robbed of the love of her life, Sir Edgardo of Ravenswood (tenor José Heredia), by her selfish manipulative brother Enrico (Jonathan R. Green), who forces her to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw (Josh Avant) to save himself from political ruin. This cannot end well and of course it doesn't. Lucia goes mad, stabs Arturo, hallucinates, and dies. Edgardo stabs himself when he learns of her death. Enrico is filled with remorse and shame.

This opera, an exemplar of the Bel Canto period, has traditionally been a vehicle for a star soprano, without which the work would fall flat. Ms. Kirchner did not disappoint, building her character from her first scene with her companion Alisa (mezzo-soprano Manya Gaver). In this scene, the soprano must foreshadow her psychotic break with reality by evincing an unstable psychological nature as she hallucinates the ghost of a murdered woman appearing at the fountain. At this, Ms. Kirchner got us about three quarters of the way there.

However, in the final act, her mad scene was totally convincing and Donizetti's decoration of the vocal line was used in the service of the character's madness. Trills, descending scale passages, the duet with the flute (sorry folks, no glass harmonica), cadenzas, and the ascent into the vocal stratosphere were all dazzling. Her acting was as on point as her fioritura. We cannot wait to hear more from this promising young artist.

Mr. Heredia gave a creditable performance as her unfortunate lover Edgardo. We have heard him a number of times in the past and are impressed by the consistency and reliability of his performance. He has a sizable instrument and uses it well.

Mr. Green's burly baritone suited the role of Lucia's controlling brother. We would have liked to have seen more variety of coloration in his voice and more specificity in his gestures. As it was, we found his interpretation to be unidimensional. The libretto makes it plain that he is a desperate man and his future can only be assured by Lucia's marriage to Bucklaw. Still, a little less violence and a little more pleading would have taken his performance to another level.

Jongwon Choi's performance as the family minister Raimondo was similarly lacking in dramatic intent. Like Mr. Green, his gestures were of the stock variety and failed to convince us that he was torn in his loyalties. At times, the low tessitura seemed to challenge him. We have seen him perform better.

The small role of Arturo does not give the tenor much to do and Mr. Avant did not do much to create a character. On the other hand Normanno, Captain of the Guard, has an important role inasmuch as he sets the tragedy in motion by spying on Lucia and reporting to her brother. The role needed a more forceful interpretation than that provided by tenor Lindell Carter. We have seen Mr. Carter a number of times and have found him fine sometimes and at other times we have been distracted by his tendency to mug and to make gestures inappropriate to the character.

Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley brought a nice shape to the performance and we heard some lovely sounds coming from the small wind section. The arpeggi  from the harp in Act I were enchanting. The orchestra was seated at ground level with the stage elevated. Although Ms. Kirchner's voice cut right through the sound, not every singer was so successful. We do not think this was a conducting flaw but rather that some of the singers did not project well.

We have always thought that singers make the best directors and were not surprised to learn that Ms. Palladino is indeed a singer. (She did similarly fine authentic work for Amore Opera's La Bohême.) The placement of the singers always made dramatic sense and no singer was asked to sing in a ridiculous position, something we have noticed happening at The Metropolitan Opera which seems to have become enchanted with directors who know nothing about opera.  

Similarly, costuming was completely appropriate, and flattering to the singers. The set was simple but effective, with small changes taking us from the castle to the garden to the Ravenswood tomb. The chorus sang well and added to the success of the production.

We greatly appreciate Regina Opera for giving us traditional opera, and so did the most enthusiastic audience. We learned that this company has survived for over half a century and, unfortunately, has no wish to perform in Manhattan.  More's the pity! 

© meche kroop

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