Lucia di Lammermoor between Feminism and unintentional comedy (ROH, 14 April 2016)

Patriarchy: Marry some dude you never met for the sake of the family, Lucia!
Lucia: But I’m in love with someone else!
Patriarchy: It’s ok if you don’t love him, focus on the fact that your brother is in trouble [because of bad political decisions].
Lucia: I promised I will marry someone else!
Patriarchy: Oh, a marital promise not blessed by a priest doesn’t matter.
Lucia: I don’t want to marry someone just because my brother is inept at politics!
Partiarchy: Shush, adults are speaking!

1) This libretto is what caused Feminism to erupt into the world, folks. Ok, not literally but OMG. There are no words.

2) Have you ever laughed when watching Lucia? Well, this production gave us unexpected opportunities (yes, more than one). There is a Live Cinema relay on 25 April, which may or may not be the reason why there were cameras today and will be again on 19 April. If there is a DVD so much the better, because humorous Lucia should be immortalised.

The harp sounded very fine in its solo. Also the glass harmonica worked nicely in tandem with Lucia. I think belcanto was served well through the evening, though it’s the kind of thing where you come for the singers – and the choir, that meddling belcanto choir we love from Bellini, Rossini and recently Mayr.

eh, not Lucia?! Pretty damn fitting poster, though!

Lucia: Diana Damrau
Edgardo: Charles Castronovo
Enrico: Ludovic Tézier
Arturo: Taylor Stayton
Raimondo: Kwangchul Youn
Normanno: Peter Hoare
Alisa: Rachael Lloyd
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

The thing with this production is that there are many scene changes that for me felt quite disruptive, especially the one before the very last scene. Lucia has sung her long, complicated, famous bit and that’s when we get a break. Poor Edgardo, who cares anymore? At least he gets to slit his throat rather dramatically. Otherwise, the brouhaha about woo, gory! seems to have been pure hype, and not the best kind, as some people have shied away. A few pints of blood were shed but no actions we haven’t seen on crime shows for the past 20 years.

The stage was split in two, which I thought worked well in showing what the other characters were doing whilst somebody was singing. The only problem was that sometimes what the other characters were doing distracted from those who were singing. The worst hit was the Enrico/Edgardo duet, which was set during the time Lucia and her mezzo maid wrestled with and killed Arturo.

Quick, he’s getting away!

Because, you see, after Lucia – quite clumsily – stabs Arturo, the chap stays put for like 2min after which he bolts upright and tries to make it for the door. And he wasn’t even singing! The audience in my area was consumed with laughter. Not so fast, tiger, says the mezzo maid, and shoves him to the floor (mezzos are always resorceful). Lucia faffs a bit but then stabs him in the side. He writhes, they keep him down, Lucia brings a rock but is about to pass out rather than bash his head in. All this time Enrico and Edgardo are singing their hearts out and I bet you no one – outside of diehard Castronovo fans – was looking their way.

Another hilarious moment – which, to be fair, had everything to do with the libretto – was during the wedding reception, when Lucia – looking lalalala – is coming into the hall.

Enrico: If Lucia looks a bit unhappy, it’s only because of her mother’s recent death.
Arturo: So I’ve been told. But tell me something, I’ve also heard that chap Edgardo was interested in her…
Enrico: Oh, yea, but this has absolutely nothing to do with it!

They force Lucia to sign the prenup and Edgardo barges in (he’d made his way through Lucia’s conveniently open window – total lack of security during wedding receptions at the beginning of the 18th century Scotland, much like in Capuleti’s Verona). When he’s shown the prenup, he goes off on her:

Edgardo: OMG! You slag! How COULD you? You said you loved me etc.
Lucia: Well, guess what buddy, I was surrounded by my personality disorder(ed) brother, the entire (menacing) male chorus, an ambivalent cleric and not one but two ghosts and now you ask me how could I? Give a bloody girl a break, willya? Jesus.

She doesn’t actually say any of this, but she oughta. She should’ve also packed her suitcase a la Aix Ginevra and left that lot to their petty duels. But then she’d’ve got a bravura aria rather than a glass harmonica, ornament city mad scene. I mean that mad scene has every combination of ornament known to man (and, in this case, woman).

The good news is Damrau can pull it off. She needed a bit of warmup in act I but by this point her top was working flawlessly. She’s also an intelligent singer and the ornaments have a logical basis. What Damrau lacks is a sense of otherworldliness. She’s a very flesh and blood Lucia, which works well for the most part. You really don’t feel she’s a helpless victim and the dramatic arc is very coherent, from the beginning when she and mezzo maid dress in male attire to meet up with Edgardo by the Fountain of Doom where they have very explicit sex1 (sadly, the maid is not involved). This Lucia is a woman ahead of her time and Damrau is the right kind of actress to portray that.

But traditionally Lucia is an emotionally unstable woman – right from the Fountain of Doom scene she’s seeing ghosts – and quite a few Lucias go for weirdness in their mad scene (Gruberova stands out for me as a particularly weird one). No so Damrau. She’s playful and happy in a very non-psychotic-looking way. I like the strong woman approach but I admit I missed the oddness.

But let’s go back to the Fountain of Doom scene. It’s apparently the fountain where an ancestor of Edgardo’s had stabbed the woman he loved, which is an odd spot for Edgardo to meet the woman he loves. Then again, his last name is Ravenswood, so he’s strong with the spooky. Lucia knows the legend, has thought about it and has brought a small bouquet to lay down in memory of that unfortunate woman.

Wouldn’t you know the ghost comes right at her and gives her a hug and kiss! She’s naturally freaked out but then Edgardo arrives and they get it on whilst arguing over whether he should keep his oath to avenge his father (presumably killed by Enrico) or not. You’d think that would be a mood killer but I guess not when you’re pressed for time by conveniently (for the libretto) having to go to France on one side and getting married on the other. This business is mildly funny when contrasted with the impassionate singing but things get properly amusing when the ghost of the Fountain of Doom flirts with the both of them. I mean, I get it, they are both doomed but it’s still funny. I think it would be better if they could manage hologram ghosts but maybe that would look too cheesy? (Can belcanto ever be too cheesy?)

Next it’s morning in Lucia’s bedroom and oops, she has morning sickness. That’s your proof that talking about revenge ups one’s virility. She miscarries whilst/from killing Arturo but she will sing her mad scene.

I can’t let her die, I must turn her! (the dark secret of the Ravenswoods emerges at last)

But enough about the production. This evening was the third time the charm with Castronovo and I got to hear Tézier, about whom I was just saying the other day that I knew I had to hear him but I wasn’t sure why. Well, he more than held his own. He made for an unpleasant Enrico and sounded good (though not quite great) whilst doing so. Castronovo, though, was a bit of a letdown. I had seen that webcast of concert Lucia with Damrau and Calleja from – from where? one or two years back – and I remember liking Calleja better. What I mean is I felt that Castronovo’s darker tone got in the way. I was expecting more colour/variation in sound. His ppps sounded a bit funny, too, sort of flat rather than ppp proper. Maybe I’m wrong in my description but the sound seemed bent instead of diminished in volume. Also at some point Edgardo sings together with something like a continuo and the two were not perfectly synchronised. Other than that he was fine, rather good chemistry with Damrau. Maybe I need to hear him in something else.

Kwangchul Youn (as the ambivalent, Lorenzo-like priest) was another singer I had wanted to hear. He has a beautiful, expansive tone but I questioned his legato in the lovely Infelice! della mente/La virtude a lei mancò! Maybe Maestro wanted him to go rhythmical but I wasn’t quite won over.

It was a surprisingly mirthful evening. I also had a very chatty seatmate, we somehow veered into politics and managed to “stay friends” 😉 He first asked me who was my favourite soprano which proved easy enough to answer but then he asked who was my favourite tenor. I totally blanked out, I couldn’t come up with any name aside from JK 😉 I ended up saying I liked mezzos better than tenors which is both true and says it all though I don’t think he got it.

Generally the audience was very congenial and, as I said, with an unexpected sense of humour – you (I) sometimes imagine belcanto fans as these diehard romantics who keep to themselves and sigh at the moon Werther-style. I think the lady next to me (who fit that description) sobbed a bit during the Lucia/Edgardo bits. She also had a very loudly ticking watch (!) which initially worried me, as the seconds ticking away were a continuo accompaniment to the music – but then I either got used to the ticking or the people around me were laughing too hard. Kidding, actually during Lucia’s mad scene you could hear a pin drop.

Speaking of loud noises, Lucia tossed her brass tea set so energetically across the room when her brov came to tell her he won’t be mad at her anymore for consorting with the enemy if she married the Arturo dude, it reminded me of other moments in opera when singers throw/push things like they don’t care:

Alex Esposito as Figaro viciously kicking the count’s boots’ box across the stage during Se vuol ballare a couple of years back at ROH

Anna Caterina Antonacci as Vitellia chucking off her pearls which bounced off the timpani during Non piu di fiori in 2006 in Paris

Richard Croft as Idomeneo messing with the table during Nettuno s’onori in 2013 at Theater-an-der-Wien

Conclusion: this Lucia was mad but in the pissed off kind of way. I don’t object at all to this production because the libretto is kicking it so jawdroppingly old skool (for anyone 200 years removed from traditional culture; I am aware people still marry for social/policial reasons but I can’t get over it). I think going about this your emotions don’t count thing like it’s nothing is much worse than unintentional comedy.

PS: There was yet another funny moment: the brov presents Lucia with the wedding dress (of doom), that Arturo dude offers her the ring, the priest looks busy; they all loom on her like they’re about to put her in solitary – nothing works to convince her, she shoves them all away. So Enrico’s henchman, Normanno, pulls out a gun. Lucia’s like ok, nevermind, I will just sit on my bed. Also Damrau has mad timing – just before one of the scene changes or intermission (can’t keep up with them breaks) the curtain started falling so she dropped to the floor in record time still in time with the music 😀


  1. In the sense that it’s clear what they are doing, not that you see what goes where, unless you count Edgardo’s shirt which gets stuck where it’s not comfortable for Lucia – another unintentional moment of hilarity. Also their being very busy dressing and undressing in a very realistic manner somewhat clashes with the super impetuous belcanto moment. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on April 15, 2016, in donizetti, italian opera, live performances, royal opera house, sopranos, tenors and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. i remember similar scene in Tancredi in Paris:
    Father (to bass): she’ll marry you
    Bass: great! Amenaide, you’ll be mine!
    Amenaide: uh…
    Father: GREAT! YES, let’s sound the trumpet!

    and i was screaming (internally) from the 5th balcony: WHAT THE HELL!
    (actually P.Ciofi pulled that “uh” off extremely well (in her business suit) that indeed i thought about feminism and the need for it!)

    Like

  2. There are so many moments/situations in Donizetti operas that are unintentionally funny. I was at Roberto Devereux the other night; Elisabetta literally drops dead at the end, and it’s supposed to be sad but it’s just . . . kind of slapstick.

    Liked by 1 person

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