Singers shine brightly in FGO’s stark and dramatic “Lucia”

By David Fleshler

Anna Christy and Joshua Guerrero in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Chris Kakol

Anna Christy and Joshua Guerrero in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Chris Kakol

Florida Grand Opera’s grimly effective production of Lucia di Lammermoor placed the focus squarely where it belongs in bel canto opera: on the singers.

This version of the Donizetti classic, which opened the company’s 77th season Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami, won’t be for everyone. The minimalist stage presentation from Houston Grand Opera contains no real sets, just alternating screens of storm clouds of darker and lighter hues and a few pieces of furniture, with the singers richly clad in what was presumably the manner of 17th century Scotland.

For many opera lovers, a Lucia without Ravenswood castle may be like a Lucia without a bloody gown, but the presentation had the effect of concentrating the focus on the singing and the drama, which were both at a high level.

The American soprano Anna Christy, who has sung major roles at leading opera houses, brought an agile, sweet-toned voice to the role of the doomed Lucia. The opera is one of the sternest tests of vocal virtuosity for any soprano, and Christy tossed off the runs and other coloratura demands with a winning lightness and effortlessness, phrasing the cascades of notes in a manner that served the drama. At times her voice seemed delicate for the role, with high notes coming off as forced, clipped and vague in pitch in “Regnava nel silenzio” and the Mad Scene.

But the latter celebrated showpiece itself was an arresting few minutes of vocal pyrotechnics and dramatic horror. Walking on stage after stabbing her new husband to death–and from the amount of blood spattering her face and gown, Arturo got it in the aorta–she allowed an eerie smile to creep over her lips as she hallucinated a wedding with her true love, Edgardo.

As conceived by stage director Elise Sandell, there were glints of sanity in the scene, as Lucia stared in horror at her bloody hands or crawled under the long wedding party table as if to escape awful reality, giving the scene unusual emotional depth, without a trace of the grotesquerie that some directors indulge in.

It would be hard for any tenor to steal the show from the soprano in this opera, but the young American Joshua Guerrero came close. He brought a heroic voice and imposing presence to the role of Edgardo, singing with Italianate fire in “Hai tradito il cielo,” as he cursed Lucia for what he thought was her betrayal and he brought stark emotion in his cries of despair as he realizes Lucia is dead.

Edgardo’s final aria, where he says goodbye to his beloved, has some of the most moving music in the opera, and he sang it with a sob to his voice but no loss of vocal gleam, delivering the words “O bell’alma innamorata (Oh beautiful, beloved soul),” with ardent emotion and resonance.

Another strong performance came from bass-baritone Kristopher Irmiter in the role of the chaplain Raimondo. Clad in a black clerical gown, he radiated compassion, humanity and sanity in an opera in which those qualities were in short supply. He brought warmth and vocal power to his aria urging Lucia to sacrifice for her family and sang with stern authority the words “Pace, pace” (Peace, peace) as he tried to break up a sword fight among Enrico, Arturo and Edgardo.

As Enrico, the baritone Trevor Scheunemann sang with a dark, stentorian voice, allowing his villainous character’s vulnerability to show as he attempted to avoid political ruin by forcing a marriage partner on his sister Lucia.

Under the Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko, who led last season’s performance of Eugene Onegin, the orchestra gave a propulsive, technically assured performance. Donizetti gives prominent solos to the harp, flute and horns, and all delivered virtually flawless performances. One of the most powerful scenes in the opera is the signing of the marriage contract, as Arturo and Enrico sing celebratory words, while the real story is told by Lucia’s drawn expression and the somber swelling of the music, played by the orchestra with poignant emotional power.

The chorus, prepared by chorus master Katherine Kozak, produced a fine, vigorous performance.

Stage director Sandell’s work contributed to the focus on the singing, with realistic touches that enhanced the drama, such as having Enrico push Lucia forward to sign the marriage contract. There was an effective idea in placing Normanno, the captain of the guards, in a position to eavesdrop on Lucia’s conversations with Alisa and Edgardo. Hiding behind one of the cloud screens, his sinister presence apparent only from the visibility of his legs beneath the edge of the screen, brought a compelling sense of dread to these scenes.

In the famous Sextet, she had the singers face the audience and produce a few minutes of great sound, with little to distract (except for the ever-present Normanno wandering around). She had the members of the chorus move in a stylized manner in time to the music that gave a formal, ritualistic tone to the performance.

As Alisa, Mary Beth Nelson sang with an ample voice and dark foreboding as she responded to Lucia’s story of the phantom in the fountain. The tenor Chaz’men Williams-Ali sounded a bit coarse as Arturo. As Normanno, Dominick Corbacio sang with aggressive malevolence.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor will be repeated Sunday through Nov. 18 at the Arsht Center and Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. The principal roles will be sung by Haeran Hong, Jesus León, Troy Cook and Simon Dyer Sunday, Friday and Dec. 2., 800-741-1010


Posted in Performances, Uncategorized

2 Responses to “Singers shine brightly in FGO’s stark and dramatic “Lucia””

  1. Posted Nov 12, 2017 at 11:06 pm by E Gordon

    Superb performance of a great production with wonderful voices! Bravo FGO!

  2. Posted Nov 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm by dan ross

    Oh please…. Too dark and gloomy, ludicrous conducting and the worst Lucia in FGO memory, no personality, no style and ultra chirpy!… Sorry I expected much much more!

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Sun Nov 12, 2017
at 1:49 pm