Lucia, Uneven but Worth It

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England, 11 October 2005 My Evenings At The Opera continue apace. Actually, they’re more like afternoons at the opera, but to me opera is always an evening. With my trusty Moleskine open and shiny bobby pins in my braids (as close to dressing up as I ever get, nowadays) I ventured forth, and saw the Portland Opera’s Sunday matinee of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

Donizetti was acclaimed as a lion of Italian opera, though he got flack for being entertaining and musical rather than Wagner-ponderous. Lucia is sung in Italian about Scottish feuding families as written by Sir Walter Scott. (And that’s just the first bit of OMGWTF in the story, which could have been daytime drama if television was around in 1835.) Of course, Donizetti had to condense several characters and omit others to fit the whole damn thing on the stage, and the “real” story with its bloodshed, accidental deaths and hints of malign spirits is a historical moment of “Jesus Christ, people, why can’t anyone just get along?”

The lights went down and the timpani started, and we were off.

For my second opera, it wasn’t bad. Act I was a little uneven. The set designer had chosen to nod to the Scottish crags with huge pieces of moveable backdrop scored with vertical lines. In order to be light enough, it was probably cloth, and it felt like the folds and valleys were swallowing most of the voices. When the sets changed and there were flats behind the singers, the sound quality measurably improved. The stage direction made it very physical, with the Scots shoving each other about the stage and waving their swords at the slightest provocation. The costuming was…rather odd, really, and I was a bit taken aback by everything except Lucia’s simple but stunning wardrobe. Hitting Lucia out of the park was frankly the only thing the costumes had going for them. (And, to be fair, the one pair of leather pants.) The scarlet-dressed female members of the chorus were a nice (if odd) touch, and the movement of the chorus was fluid–the chorus had to hit a number of marks, and did so with well-timed precision that managed to overcome some of the stranger choices made.

Carl Halvorson‘s Normanno was lynxlike and very gorgeously present; the eye follows him wherever he goes, even when we’re supposed to focus on more principal characters. Weston Hurt‘s Enrico was played with cool, calculating cruelty. Enrico’s a weird character, his obsession with revenge and avoiding his own ruin can be paired with a sort of incestuous vibe for Lucia, but Hurt chose instead to show a brother who really never liked his sister much anyway. Hurt was in fine voice, too, carrying his part with aplomb and fierceness. His bulk was magisterial and believable in more ways than one.

Peter Volpe‘s Father Raimondo, after being shoved around the stage by the Furious Scotsmen With Swords, came into his own in Act II. One of the interesting pieces of the opera is the culpability of the priest/pastor, who encourages Lucia to sign the marriage contract and then sees the whole spectacle of madness and blood unfold. His grief was palpable in the final scene, and he played off Ramsay’s Edgardo very well. You could feel Father Raimondo trying to halt the juggernaut and seeing it roll on its intended course without swerving.

Speaking of the marriage contract, Ian Jose Ramirez as Arturo did very well, though his costume was a little…unfortunate. Normally I’m all for men in leather pants, and he looked quite fetching in them, but the costumer needed to either go big or go home on this one and sadly decided to go only halfway to Loch Lomond, so to speak, with everything but Lucia’s dresses and the leather pants. One gets the feeling the costumer was rooting for Arturo and Lucia all along, and thought Edgardo was comic relief.

Still, Arturo was well played. I’d’ve frankly liked to see more of Ramirez, but his part was small. He’s a resident artist with the Portland Opera, and like Melissa Fajardo, the type of presence that keeps an entire scene from going off the rails. Both of them deserve bigger roles.

And what of the star-crossed lovers, Edgardo and Lucia? Scott Ramsay as Edgardo has a full, rich, round, passionate voice, but he was also costumed…unfortunately, in a pale wallowing ill-cut coat that made him a little farcical during his most tragic moments. If you closed your eyes during his duets with Elizabeth Futral‘s Lucia you could very well believe him her passionate consort. His death scene, I am sad to say, needs a blood pack, and that coat tries to rob it of all its terrifying auditory grandeur.

Lucia herself was radiant. I’d listened to an EMI recording of Callas in Milan for a week or so to prepare, so I was foggily aware of the demands the role places on a soprano, even a coloratura. It was Futral’s lyricism and powerhouse of a voice that glossed over the unevenness in Act I, and once she took the stage for the mad scene in Act II the audience was firmly on her side. The mad scene (always an acid test, I joked beforehand that I would be expecting the Diva Dance to bust out during) was utterly fabulous. There was one bad note, but you could believe it was insanity that cracked that gorgeous voice deliberately, a testament to Futral’s incandescent, riveting presence and skill. Wide-eyed, blood-spattered, fey and childlike one moment and a furious angel the next, Futral deserves every accolade and brava that was flung at the stage. You could have heard a pin drop right after she fell and died, the audience was stunned. The mad scene is a monster of technical proficiency and demands the utmost from a soprano, and Futral delivered in spades. Even when the backdrop tried to swallow half her notes she projected right over the top of it with marvellous ease. Her duet with–I think it was a flute, or two flutes–sounded like a bird and a princess in a Disney movie singing back and forth, playing with liquid music. (Someone give those flautists a box of choco and some roses, too, that was excellent.)

All in all, it wasn’t bad for my second in-person opera. It wasn’t quite as transcendent as Salome, but that was through no fault of the singers. All in all, it was an enjoyable three hours, and I feel lucky to have heard Futral sing. The rest of the cast deserves a medal for attempting to be heard over the backdrop, and I could have wished for a little less flinging around of dress swords and a little more kilt action (sadly, the only kilt I saw was in the audience) but all in all, a very solid offering from Portland Opera. Their next season looks great, too, if I can scrape together enough for tickets.

photo by: PhillipC
  • martianmooncrab

    seeing the Naples Opera House, with its gold and gilt and velvets was impressive, and just knowing it was the backdrop for Opera …