Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is a psychologically gripping opera that exudes passion, tension and drama. Often marked as a showcase opera, it is a work favoured by sopranos for its dazzling bel canto arias. But Scottish Opera serves up much more than that: director John Doyle gets straight to the heart of this gritty drama, revealing a chilling tragedy on another scale altogether.
Taking just over a month to write, Donizetti based the story of Lucia di Lammermoor on Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel The Bride of Lammermuir. It is one of his most complex and tragic operas, producing a web of stunning virtuoso arias. Set in Scotland, the opera is centred on a tragic love triangle involving Lucia, Edgardo and Arturo. Lucia and Edgardo secretly become engaged but Lucia is forced by her wicked brother to marry Arturo. She obeys her brother after believing that Edgardo is unfaithful. But after realising her mistake, Lucia turns mad with anguish and kills Arturo. Her mental disintegration leads to a physical collapse and she falls lifeless. It is here that the opera culminates with Donizetti's tragic ending: on discovering Lucia's dead body, Edgardo commits suicide in a fit of grief.
As one might expect, Donizetti concluded that such an intricate story also necessitated intricate music. Indeed, his bel canto arias are elaborate and tax the very limits of the human voice. But in this performance, Scottish Opera's soloists were quite exceptional. Their sheer raw talent and exquisite singing place this production in line with one of the best I have ever seen.
Undertaking one of Donizetti's most difficult roles, Turkish singer Bülent Bezdüz transformed the love-struck Edgardo to one consumed by anger, grief and despair with immeasurable passion and energy. With clear diction and enthusiasm to match, Bezdüz created beautiful lines in Donizetti's most elaborate, popping off the coloratura at rapid speed.
Stunning music features throughout the opera but it is Donizetti's catastrophic ending that bears the full intricacy of his bel canto writing. Donizetti musically confirms Lucia's mental breakdown in the third act through staggering intervallic leaps, brilliant runs and drawn-out high trills. But this is no challenge for Sally Silver (Lucia), who scaled these difficult passages with unnerving ease. Silver skilfully projected Lucia's psychological instability, whilst maintaining an elegant vocal line even through the most difficult musical and physical passages.
Equally remarkable was Alan Fairs, who played the part of Raimondo. Often considered as a secondary role, the singer must carefully balance emotional support for Lucia whist also maintaining impartiality as a virtuous chaplain. But Fairs' performance was far from insignificant. Reaching the lowest notes of the bass register his voice resonated in a rich timbre creating a clear, poignant and unforgettable role.
However, Andrew Schroeder's performance was the one I enjoyed best. Undertaking the role of Lucia's wicked brother Enrico, Schroeder developed the vehemence of his character in a sensationally measured and calculated way. Although the part demanded fury and anger in many of his arias, his tone was not forced. A particular highlight for me was his opening aria. Although difficult to judge, Schroeder employed the full range and extent of colour, creating a momentous performance of Donizetti's bel canto writing.
But out of these wonderful decorative elements emerged the full poignancy of Donizetti's story. Doyle established the mood with a dark grainy set in contemporary design. Although the actual settings comprised of very little, the murky lighting and effective choreography (from the chorus) stressed the turbulence and fragility of the relationships between the characters. The wardrobe department should be commended for their choice of costumes: Lucia's bride dress certainly wins the prize for 'longest train', while the wigs were realistic and discreetly pinned.
Even though the chorus are a talented and capable group, the climax of the second act was a little disappointing. At the crucial moment when Edgardo discovers Lucia is married to Arturo, the chorus lacked the volume and drive one might expect from such a high drama scene.
Conductor Julian Smith led a tight orchestra in sympathy with the difficult vocal parts: not once did they overpower the singers. Acknowledgment goes to Saida de Lyon, whose harp cadenza in the first act bridged the first two scenes beautifully.
A superb production not to be missed.
By Mary Robb