February 15, 2013
A Mad, Compelling Lucia
The mad Lucia, warbling along with flutes in her bloodied, white bridal nightgown, has long defined the operatic heroine. She makes perfect operatic sense — that poor girl, lost in the Romantic wilderness of clannish Scotland, in love with her powerful brother’s worst enemy, tricked into a marriage merger with the son of a wealthy local family, and berated by her furious lover for the betrayal. Surely she has to become unhinged, murder her new husband on their marriage bed, and deliver a sustained scene of the most touching pathos.
It is easy to mock the story, based though it was on a highly influential, best-selling novel by Sir Walter Scott. Yet Gaetano Donizetti wrote music of such devastating depth for Lucia that it lingers not only with each person who has heard it but also as an imprint on our culture. The chirping-canary cliché could not be further from the truth.
Lucia de Lammermoor demands a fine soprano. She is central to four of the opera’s six scenes. In its performance Friday, West Bay Opera found its tragic heroine in Rochelle Bard, who offers an appealing, tonally balanced voice with rich texture, yet the flexibility to shape melting phrases and toss off gracious trills. She did not aim at show-stopping high notes. Rather, she compellingly revealed a trapped young woman whose attempts to please everyone wreak destruction. Even at close range in Palo Alto’s 425-seat Lucie Stern Theater, Bard brought the oddly contradictory Lucia to convincing life.
Bard compellingly revealed a trapped young woman whose attempts to please everyone wreak destruction.
Director David F. Ostwald is a published expert on operatic acting. In general, his skills animated the singers, though a few wooden movements either came inborn with certain performers or will sort themselves out as the production matures (it runs through Feb. 24). Kilts were de rigueur for the men (so, too, a few knobby knees). Lucia huddled in shapeless, if atmospheric, tweed when out-of-doors, though indoor gowns by designer Claire Townsend showed her in elegance. Suggestive sets by Jean-François Revon — minimal on this tiny stage — were most convincing with indoor spaces and with the final, misty Ravenswood graveyard.
Edgardo, Lucia’s out-of-clan lover, must be a stylish lyric singer who commands the full bel canto arsenal, above all for his star turn in the final scene. Vincent Chambers is a sturdy, accurately focused tenor who gets plenty of gratitude for an earnest Edgardo, yet his powerful voice simply does not mesh with this music.
Krassen Karagiozov sometimes seemed to force his otherwise warm baritone in order to convey the deep villainy of Lucia’s brother Enrico, the leader of her family. He carried this large part with dramatic intensity — anchoring, among other scenes, the great sextet, of which, it seems, everyone in the early phonographic era had a disc.
Isaiah Muzik-Ayala boomed out effectively as the duplicitous Calvinist clergyman Raimondo. Nadav Hart as the Captain of the Guard sang with a lively tenor and excellent Italian. Katia Hayati provided firm counterpoint as Lucia’s handmaid. Conductor Michel Singher marshaled his small orchestra with four-square energy and some creative latitude for the singers.
Conductor Michel Singher marshaled his small orchestra with four-square energy and some creative latitude for the singers. This was no small achievement, given that his tiny pit could not contain even the 27 players under his baton — which had to reach to trumpets, trombones, timpani, and percussion somewhere offstage.
The production was dedicated to the memory of long-time West Bay Opera supporter Richard Johnson. The Palo Alto audience greeted this Lucia with an appropriate enthusiasm, extending a warm ovation, above all, to Rochelle Bard, the star of the evening.
John Bender is professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University. He has reviewed the San Francisco Opera for Opera Canada for several years.
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