Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lucia di Lammermoor

San Francisco Opera
Tue Jun 17 2008 8 pm

Lucia: Natalie Dessay
Edgardo: Giuseppe Filianoti
Enrico: Gabriele Viviani
Raimondo: Oren Gradus
Alisa: Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur
Normanno: Matthew O’Neill
Arturo: Andrew Bidlack

Conductor: Jean-Yves Ossonce
Director: Graham Vick
Production Designer: Paul Brown

Lucia is not a favorite opera of mine, but I was looking forward to seeing & hearing Natalie Dessay, who was such a sensation at the Met in this role. She's a small woman, very fit & 100% comfortable on stage. She made her entrance running across the stage, & in this scene she was an innocent, playful & sensual Lucia. She's a great physical actor. In the scene where she is confronted by her brother Enrico, she starts off defiant & proud, then is gradually broken down, & she communicated all of this through her body as much as her singing.

Dessay doesn't have a huge voice, but it sounds very easy & natural. She never made it sound like she had to strain to hit those high notes & or do those vocal acrobatics in the mad scene. In fact, she gave the impression that she could go on like that indefinitely. She was very effective in the cadenza, when she let her voice gently float fragments of melodies that would suddenly trail off. In that moment I truly felt like I had no idea what she was going to do next. It was a convincing sensation of being unmoored from reality.

In the mad scene we got the novelty of a glass harmonica in the pit instead of the usual flute. That ethereal, disembodied sound moved the scene in the direction of the eerie. Dessay added her own disturbing element by interpolating a scream & later by laughing to herself as she ended her aria.

I also enjoyed the performance of the tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, a very different kind of singer from Dessay. His sound is a bit raw, & he often sounds like his voice is on the edge of breaking. I found this very exciting, especially in the Act II finale when he denounces Lucia. The anguish was palpable. I thought he was consistently vocally dramatic.

The opera orchestra sounded great, & there were a lot of details & clarity of texture. My biggest reservation about the performance was the lack of big climaxes in general. This is a pot-boiler of an opera, with one show-stopping aria or chorus after another, but I never felt like these big numbers really caught fire. Not enough build-up or something.

The staging just barely told the story & seemed disjointed to me. The costumes all looked very Scottish, what with all the tartans, so the national setting does come through. Most of the action takes place within a frame, on a stage floor dressed like a heath. It was not always clear whether scenes were supposed to be inside or outside. During the confrontation between Lucia & Enrico, a gap in the wall moved slowly from right to left. But why? It was just distracting. At the start of the mad scene, walls split apart to reveal Lucia standing in a bed of red flowers. It looks like an interesting start, but then the imagery never goes anywhere from there. I often expected the staging to go Euro-trash on us, but instead nothing much happens. Perhaps it's better this way.

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