BWW Review: LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera
On July 21, 2017, Santa Fe Opera presented Ron Daniels' production of Gaetano Donizetti's Bel Canto work, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. Beginning with a storm and several huge rainbows, the open sides of Santa Fe Opera's Crosby Theatre allowed the audience to watch the sun set as the orchestra played the opera's overture. Based on Sir Walter Scott's novel, THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR, the opera tells the story of a young woman who loses her reason when forced to marry a man she does not love. Scott wrote of Janet Dalrymple who in 1669 was forced to marry David Dunbar. Later, in their bridal chamber, she wounded him severely and she died insane shortly afterwards.
Daniels told librettist Salvadore Cammarano's story in detail and included all the scenes of this oft-cut opera. Thus, some music was new to even veteran operagoers. Scenic Designer Riccardo Hernandez created a background of embossed lines and squares. With the aid of Christopher Akerlind's lighting and Peter Nigrini's projections, they became nineteenth century walls and ceilings for some scenes and misty outdoor Scottish moors for others. Costume Designer Emily Rebholz dressed the men in black with furs and the women in muted jewel tones. Daniels' stage direction brought the story to life in realistic terms. We learn that Lucia's brother, Enrico, would have lost his life if he did not obtain the money the marriage of his sister would ensure. Once in a while, however, Daniels' direction distracted from the singing and I wondered if his concept did not differ from the spirit of the libretto in Act I Scene 3 where Lucia appeared in her brother's bedroom.
Brenda Rae was a high octane Lucia. She had the dynamic range and the necessary virtuosity to execute the trills and the break-neck speed coloratura that the role demands. Her pianissimo and her messa di voce were immensely impressive. She also had the added ability to decorate this difficult music with cadenzas that provided thrilling moments. An attractive stage character, Rae projected the emotional turmoil and the personality of a troubled woman from the beginning when she speaks of having seen a ghost at the fountain. Daniels' Lucia would never be a sensible Scottish wife for Edgardo, but he was so deeply in love with her that he could not see her mental flaw.
Rae demonstrated enormous endurance. She showed her lyric side with Edgardo and her dramatic side with her brother, Enrico as she tried to stop his scheme to have her marriage solve his financial problems. Accompanied by the eerie sounds of the glass harmonica that the composer originally called for, Rae's uncut Mad Scene was a tour de force with all the virtuosity any opera lover could ask from a star singer. No wonder at the end of the scene she was rewarded with lengthy and vociferous applause.
Operalia-winning lyric tenor Mario Chang was an attentive, ardent Edgardo who failed to achieve full measure of the bright sound and vocal freedom that one expects to hear from a young artist of his caliber. I hope to hear him soon again in a different part. Zachary Nelson was a strong Enrico who sang with robust tones and never let the audience forget that his future depended on the acquiescence of his sister.
The outstanding lower voice was that of bass-baritone Christian Van Horn who sang Raimondo. His sound was resonant and it flowed into the auditorium in waves of vocal beauty. As Normanno and Alisa, Stephen Martin and Sarah Coit showed themselves to be promising young artists, while Carlos Santelli sang Arturo with burnished golden tones. Santelli and Coit joined Rae, Chang, Nelson, and Van Horn in a gorgeous rendition of the renowned sextet.
Most of us don't think of LUCIA as an opera with a ballet, but it does have one. Apprentice Dancers: Evan Copeland, Benjamin Freedman, Sean Lammer, and Ricky Wenthen performed Zack Winokur's free-ranging folk dance just before the Mad Scene. Dancing arm-in-arm, they jumped and performed tricky footwork without any one of them missing a beat. Susanne Sheston's chorus, made up of apprentices, moved with fluidity and sang their harmonies expressively.
Conductor Corrado Rovaris maintained a brisk pace, good balances, and a level of musical animation that never let the tension lag. Rovaris is a Bel Canto expert and he always allowed the singers the room they needed to express their emotions with lyricism and virtuosity. Not only did Friedrich Heinrich Kern play his glass harmonica with color and stylistic grace, in addition there were other orchestral solos, particularly from the brass and strings, that added greatly to the beautiful sounds of the evening.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR is just one of five interesting productions to be seen at the opera house in the magnificent hills outside the "City Different." This week and next I will report on: Mason Bates' THE REVOLUTION OF Steve Jobs, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's THE GOLDEN COCKEREL, George Frideric Handel's ALCINA, and Johann Strauss' DIE FLEDERMAUS.
Photo Credit Ken Howard, Santa Fe Opera