Lighting a Fire Under Lucia

Michael Zwiebach on May 29, 2007
You don't have to be a critical genius to figure out that Talise Trevigne, the star of San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor has a major-league voice and star quality to match. She lit a fire under Saturday's satisfying, if basic, performance at the Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor. But hers was far from the only positive contribution of the evening. This is a well-tuned show, amply repaying its bargain-basement ticket price. Trevigne, in her first impersonation of Donizetti's formidable title role, proved that she has all the required vocal resources and musicianship. Penetrating, round tone at both registral poles is just the beginning. She threw out clear, unaspirated passagework; was always precisely on the beat, showing a great sense of rhythm; and phrased and softened attacks like the seasoned pro she is on her way to becoming. As an actor, too, she proved equal to the task. She allowed no operatic or stagey mannerisms in her performance and from the outset conveyed Lucia's emotional fragility. Stage Director Heather Carolo gave her characterization a real boost: We first discovered Lucia, almost hypnotized, gazing into a well as the scene prelude was being played. It would have been nice to see equal sensitivity to the music in the oboe solos introducing her in the Act 2 confrontation with her brother, but that would have required taking some risks with pantomime gestures. When Trevigne took over — as she must — for the mad scene, her performance reached an extraordinarily high level. It lacked only the vocal nuances that she'll add as she grows in the part. As Edgardo, her dispossessed lover, Daniel Cardwell was miscast. The high tessitura doesn't sit well with him. His vocal production was strained, resulting in some pitch uncertainty that was especially unpleasant around the break. His sound had no real presence. He looked wooden and acted unconvincingly, partly because he was overtaxed by the role's vocal demands.

Sensitive Villain

The reliable Roberto Gomez filled the role of Enrico, Lucia's brother. Gomez seems to take particular delight in playing villains. They suit his blustery acting, which includes his yogic "proud warrior" stance: feet planted firmly apart, arm outstretched, finger extended toward his unfortunate victim. He sings with power and a sensitivity that sometimes seems at odds with his tautly energized stage presence. This worked brilliantly in his second act interview with Lucia, where his initial forceful reaction to her reproaches yielded to a gentle, lyrical reading of the aria "Ma, si taccia del passato" (Let us not talk of the past). It was a mistake, however, for Carolo to have Gomez eat during that scene with Lucia. Unlike the controlled, confident Baron Scarpia of Puccini's Tosca, Enrico has everything on the line at that point. Also, his appointed savior, Arturo, is arriving at that very moment. The surprise of the evening was A.J. Glueckert as Arturo. Already well-trained at his young age, he is a tenor to watch, with a ringing upper register that, if it continues to develop, will be ideal for Rossini. The supporting roles were all well done and the chorus sang effectively. The Lyric Opera orchestra was generally good, despite a few misplaced notes and some accompaniments that did not always perfectly mesh together. Stacey Pelinka's liquid flute tone was a fine match for Trevigne's coloratura flights in the mad scene. Artistic Director Barnaby Palmer, who also conducted, has a good grasp of the score, and was willing to dare some rubato and tempo modification, mostly in predictable places such as the top of a phrase. When he went for it, as in the reprise of the lovers' "Verranno a te" in Act 1, he produced a brilliant effect. The score could take even more of that interpretive style. It has so much drive written into it that there's never a chance that it might lag. Modern interpreters need always to avoid being too Verdian with this music.