Miami Lyric Opera serves up bel canto splendor with Donizetti’s “Lucia”

By Lawrence Budmen

Martin Nusspaumer as Edgardo and Eglise Gutierrez in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Miami Lyric Opera. Photo: MLO

Operatic bel canto and the passion and treachery of Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor meet in Donizetti’s masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor. Miami Lyric Opera’s new production on Saturday night at the Moss Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay does justice to this mixture of inspired melodies and Scottish tragedy. With a cast of gifted singers, a star performance in the title role and theatrically informed staging, this Lucia is one of the company’s best offerings in its two-decade history.

The tale of rival Scottish clans and a heroine forced into an arranged marriage by her evil brother (for his political advantage), leading to madness and murder, is the stuff of operatic melodramas in excelsis. Director Raffaele Cardone fielded a strong cast that was up to Donizetti’s considerable vocal demands.

Any iteration of Donizetti’s classic inevitably begins with the title heroine. The Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez has sung the role in major European houses. From Lucia’s first appearance in Scene II of the first act, Gutierrez commanded the stage. Her burnished middle register radiated the fear and psychodrama in Lucia’s haunted vision of the ghost in “Regnava nel silenzio.” In the cabaletta, her secure top range spun spot-on coloratura. Her ornaments were tasteful and musically idiomatic, accomplished with accuracy.

Carrying the blood-splattered wedding dress and dagger with which she has killed her bridegroom, Gutierrez spun trills and roulades even while lying on the floor in the Mad Scene. Her pure, pitch-perfect rendition of the flute cadenza was followed by the curtain coming down prematurely. Following that jarring glitch, when it rose again Gutierrez did not miss a beat, spinning rapid runs at top speed before Lucia’s  collapse at the scene’s culmination.

As Edgardo, her lover from a rival clan, Martin Nusspaumer displayed a well-placed lyric tenor with a throb and squillo that rang through the house in the big moments. His voice blended wonderfully with Gutierrez’s in the Act I duet ”Verrano a te sull’aure.” In the marriage contract scene, Nusspaumer’s sound rang out with bitter venom in his denunciation of what Edgardo believes is Lucia’s faithlessness. He brought intense fervor to Edgardo’ s final aria and suicide (upon hearing of Lucia’s death) in the concluding tomb scene.

Veteran baritone Nelson Martinez fully embodied the villainous Lord Enrico Ashton, Lucia’s brother, in voluminous tones and warmth of timbre. He phrased his arias in the opening scene with bel canto suavity. In the initial scene of Act II when Ashton shows the distraught Lucia a forged letter, supposedly from Edgardo saying he is pledged to another woman, Martinez and Gutierrez brought true theatrical fire (as they did in MLO’s semi-concert version of Verdi’s La Traviata in 2021). While Martinez is basically a stand-and-deliver singer, his bearing and force of personality fully conveyed Ashton’s malevolence.

Mikhail Smigelski, who was to sing the role of the chaplain Raimondo, had to withdraw from the production due to a family emergency. On short notice, Gibson Dorce learned and prepared the role. Dorce is a bass-baritone rather than the basso-cantante that Donizetti’s writing calls for. His lowest notes were more approximated than projected but he cut a compassionate figure, albeit one who inadvertently aids Ashton’s conspiracy. He brought gravity to his announcement of Lucia’s madness, and, in the final scene, revealed Lucia’s death to Edgardo in darkly plumed heft.

Wearing royal gold, Ray Gonzalez was a standout as the ill-fated bridegroom Lord Arturo Bucklaw. His Italianate tenor impressively intoned Bucklaw’s greeting and faux pledge of love in the marriage scene. As Normanno, huntsman and captain of Ashton’s guard, Jared Peroune delivered his recitatives with stentorian force. (Peroune is also chorus master for Florida Grand Opera.) Mezzo Elizabeth DeFronzo sang Alisa’s lines with sweetness. In the famous Act II sextet, the six principals’ voices beautifully melded, their vocalism replete with vociferous fervor.

Under Beverly Coulter’s idiomatic direction and with former New World Symphony player Sergio Carleo in the concertmaster’s seat, the orchestral contribution was markedly improved from the usual company standard. The crucial horn parts were assayed accurately and Ana Maria Bolivar’s harp solo (in the introduction to the opera’s second scene) emerged elegant and precisely rendered. As Ashton’s guards and shocked wedding guests, the chorus (under Pablo Hernandez) sounded unified, spirited and rousing.

Cardone’s staging was purposeful and dramatic in all the right ways, enhancing the theatricality of Donizetti’s Romeo and Juliet saga. Sets and backdrops from the Sormani-Stivanello company were appropriately attractive and often imposing. Costumes (coordinated by Pam DeVercelly) proved appropriately dark with the brighter outfits for Ashton and Bucklaw designed by Eduardo Gonzalez allowing the conniving clan leaders to stand out.

There is one remaining performance on Sunday of this well sung and solidly produced version of Donizetti’s most popular opera. Vocal buffs should not miss the opportunity to experience it.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats Lucia di Lammermoor 4 p.m. Sunday at the Moss Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sun Jul 2, 2023
at 8:49 am
No Comments