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“Lucia di Lammermoor” Review - Beautiful, Powerful and Compeling

By Barbara Keer

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If it is October, the Lyric Opera of Chicago takes us to Scotland.  At least that has been true the last two years according to WFMT (98.7) Morning Program Co-Host Carl Grapentine who presented the pre-opera lecture for the opening night of Lucia di Lammermoor, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s second opera of the season.  Before I go further, can I tell you that it was a spectacular performance? Gaetano Donizetti based on Lucia di Lammermoor Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor with libretto by Savatore Cammarano who went on to write with Verdi.

This romantic tragedy is perhaps the most popular work of the bel canto era. The heroine, Lucia (soprano Susanna Phillips), is the sister of the villainous Enrico (baritones Brian Mulligan and Quinn Kelsey). Enrico’s mortal enemy is Edgardo of Ravenswood (tenor Giuseppe Filianoti), who is in love with Lucia. She returns his love, and the two hope to be married. Desperate to extricate his family from certain financial ruin, Enrico arranges a match between Lucia and the wealthy Lord Arturo (tenor René Barbera). To convince Lucia to marry Arturo, he schemes to make her believe that Edgardo has been unfaithful. When Edgardo unexpectedly appears at the wedding, he denounces Lucia, which leads to a tragic dénouement, to the horror of Lucia’s tutor, the dignified Raimondo (bass-baritone Christian Van Horn).

Lucia was conducted by Massimo Zanetti (debut) with Catherine Malfitano as stage director (Lyric directing debut). Also making Lyric debuts are set designer Wilson Chin and costume designer Terese Wadden. The lighting designer is Duane Schuler and the chorus master is Michael Black.

This was Donizetti’s 50th opera out of 65.  It opened on September 26th, 1835 to an enthusiastic audience and has continued to be popular ever since.  It encompasses all that one thinks of in opera- drama, intrigue, romance, and gorgeous music, something to touch many of one's senses.  Lucia was first performed at Lyric Opera in 1954 and most recently in 2004. This new production is fast paced and riveting.  The sextet at the end of the second act and the "mad scene" in the third act, which characterize this opera did not disappoint.  The sets staging, lighting and costuming played very important parts.  I chatted with Helen Zell who was sitting behind me about the sets and I agreed with her observations. She expressed the thought that the sets were modest and effective.  They appeared to consider cost and definitely had a “wow” factor.

The third act certainly opened to a “wow”, a huge tower that looked just like those we had seen when living in Scotland.   This was startling and dramatic.  How, I wondered, was the action going to move from here back to the setting for the “mad scene”?  It was very cleverly done but to find out how this happened, you will have to see Lucia yourself.

The music for the opera is exceptionally beautiful. All of the voices were exquisite. The series of duets were wonderful but the sextet involving Edgardo, Enrico, Lucia, Raimondo, Arturo and Alisa was memorable.  I was at the edge of my seat during the “mad scene” not only because the “duet” of voice and flute was achingly beautiful, poignant and moving but also because I was terrified that Susanna Phillips was going to tumble off the stairs. The acting was powerful.  The staging seemed exceptionally balanced.  The experience of performing the role of Lucia seemed to be a positive factor in Catherine Malfitano’s new role as stage director. 

Anyone who currently has tickets should consider oneself fortunate, indeed.  As they say, “ don’t walk, run” to get tickets for a memorable experience.

(In Italian with projected English translations)

Free pre-opera lecture is 30 minutes but begins one hour prior to curtain time and is strongly recommended.

Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 51 minutes

Civic Opera House

20 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 332-2244


Photos: Dan Rest

Published on Oct 12, 2011

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