Fine cast in FGO’s “Lucia” undermined by obtrusive stage direction
As traditionally performed, Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor is two-and-a-half hours of Scottish castles, mist-shrouded lakes, swordsmanship and tragedy.
Florida Grand Opera swept most of this aside Saturday, in a production that brought the story into the modern era on a stark cost-effective unit set dominated by a jagged gray wall.
There was nothing wrong with clothing the cast in sportcoats, kilts, tuxedos and formal gowns, nor with equipping them with flashlights and handguns, rather than lanterns and swords. And musically the performance at the Arsht Center in Miami was on a high level, with a stellar vocal performance by the Cuban-American soprano, Eglise Gutiérrez.
But the production was undermined by the obtrusive, heavy-handed stage direction of Renaud Doucet, a former dancer and choreographer who has directed several FGO operas.
Doucet’s direction suggested a lack of confidence — and little interest — in Donizetti’s music. He constantly found ways for the stage action to elbow the music out of the way, not enhancing the narrative, but distracting from it, and drawing attention away from Donizetti’s storyline at all the key moments.
In the first act, Lucia tells of a vision of a woman stabbed to death, clad in a bloody gown. Doucet has the ghost of this woman appear on stage at various moments, wandering unnoticed among the performers. During the famous sextet in Act 2, the apparition strolls around, walking up to the different singers, and making it hard to concentrate on what is usually one of the opera’s supremely effective moments.
During the mad scene, after Lucia murders the new husband forced on her by her brother and appears in blood-streaked white gown before the horrified wedding guests, Gutierrez was required to act out the madness in ways that were alternately plausible and farcical. This included raising the head of her late husband’s cooling corpse and addressing him as if he were her true love Edgardo — not a bad touch —- and then, ridiculously, smooching passionately one of the female cast members under the delusion that she was Edgardo.
And incredibly, this production found a way to give this tragic opera a happy ending. After Lucia’s demise and the heartbroken Edgardo shoots (rather than stabs) himself — he sings of his love for Lucia and also dies. Doucet then has the dead Lucia join him, they embrace and walk off hand in hand as the curtain falls.
Is it really necessary to beat the audience over the head with this sort of literalism? Couldn’t the power of Donizetti’s music show the beauty of their dying for each other? In opera, much of the drama and passion is in the music, and to try to make incarnate every emotion dilutes the effect rather than enhancing it.
For sopranos, the role of Lucia is what Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto is for pianists. And Gutierrez clearly had the technique to cope with the role’s runs, trills and other ornamentations, although the effort in hitting high notes sometimes showed. But she conceived the role as much more than an icy exercise in coloratura, and her rich, gleaming voice brought heft and depth to the role. In the first act, when she sings of her love for Edgardo, her lyric approach paid off with a Quando rapito in estasi that sounded sweeter and less flashy than many other performances. In the mad scene, she brought off all the vocal challenges, effectively, although the pathos didn’t come through as well, partly because she was busy darting about the stage acting insane.
Appearing on stage in a kilt and gray sport coat, the baritone Mark Walters was the finest actor of the night as he portrayed a frantic man willing to do anything to save himself. His strong, well-centered voice brought dread and fury to the first act aria Cruda funesta smania, and through the marriage scene, as he brought Lucia forward with a desperate smile on his face, he brought drama to the opera.
As Lucia’s lover Edgardo, the tenor Israel Lozano brought a smaller voice but one with dramatic fire and lyric gleam. At a few key moments, however, such as the aria Tu che a Dio just before he kills himself, he allowed his voice to break with emotion at a time when the music was at its most beautiful. As an actor, he was overpowered by the more charismatic and forceful portrayals of Raimondo and Enrico, and he seemed more pitiable than heroic.
Most effective vocally was Jordan Bisch, who brought a steady, deep bass to the role of the minister Raimondo. When he commanded Enrico and Edgardo to stop fighting, singing the words Pace, pace, his effortlessly powerful voice dominated the stage.
Under the baton of the young Spanish conductor Ramon Tebar, the orchestra gave a spirited, technically polished performance of Donizetti’s music. Although the opera contains several difficult exposed passages for horns —an area that has been the weak spot for FGO orchestras in the past—the playing here was virtually flawless. The production, like many these days, cut the Wolf’s Crag scene, where Edgardo and Enrico swear to kill each other and agree to meet for a duel.
André Barbe, the costume and set designer, updated the opera in ways that were generally effective, even if they may have disappointed audience members seeking the gothic cobwebs of traditional Lucia productions. A particularly effective touch came at the very end, when the chorus arrives and tells Edgardo of Lucia’s madness and impending death, where their open umbrellas in the gloomy twilight gave an effectively funereal cast to the scene. And during the wedding party, just before Lucia’s appearance, the use of party hats and colored streamers lent an aptly frivolous touch to the celebration.
Lucia di Lammermoor runs through Jan. 31 at the Arsht Center and Feb. 4 and 6 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Call 800-741-1010 or go to www.fgo.org.
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Sun Jan 24, 2010
at 3:35 pm