This review is for the performance on Thursday, March 22, 2018.
Before I begin my review, properly, of this absolutely incredible evening, which featured some amazing musical moments, I want to bring up a constant I have seen throughout the past few years at the Metropolitan Opera and many theaters in the world.
This season, the Metropolitan Opera presented a chopped up version of “Semiramide” which felt stilted and unbalanced. The result was a less than satisfying evening of what is called Rossini’s “Semiramide.” And on Thursday evening, the Met presented another chopped up bel canto opera, “Lucia di Lammermoor.” When the production premiered in 2007, the opera was already cut. But now in 2018, 11 years after the first presentation, the opera has obtained even more cuts. I ask why? For length purposes? Then why don’t we cut a Wagner opera or a Mozart opera, which are sometimes longer? Are the repetitions difficult to direct? Or is it because the music that repeats adds no drama. The point is these bel canto composers wrote the music in a specific way and for specific reasons and it is the responsibility of opera companies to present the works with respect, so that audiences understand the patterns these composers created for the works.
For too long bel canto works have been marred by high notes and the emphasis has been on these virtuosic antics which either add nothing or distract away from the complexity of the music. As I watched last nights performance of “Lucia” I felt disappointed and enervated by the lack of respect Donizetti was getting due to the massive cuts in the duet with Enrico and Lucia, the cuts in the Raimondo and Lucia duet, etc. I could go on. From the energy in the hall during the mad scene, there seemed to be more focus on whether the soprano could hit an E Flat (a note that was never written), than on the 20 minutes of fierce intensity that she put into the scene as a whole. It made me feel somewhat disappointed that all of that was for naught, the overall qualities of the performance overlooked for something, in my eyes, more superficial.
But thankfully that disappointment was quickly dispelled as the singers went out for their curtain calls. The soprano received flowers, the tenor received a standing ovation, and the rest of the cast was also given a good round of applause. Why? Because on this evening the Metropolitan Opera put together a performance that, albeit incomplete, contained incredible singing, acting and wonderful conducting.
Mary Zimmerman’s Gothic Scotland
The 2007 production continues to be a gem of the Met. It’s not perfect, particularly in the sextet’s distracting photo or the set change during the Raimondo-Lucia duet, but the use of color, the focus on ghosts, and the incredible direction give this work a refreshing and modern take. The Victorian costumes are attractive and allow its singers the freedom to move about the immense terrain that the director created.
What is more important is that the production is so well put together that it gives each interpreter the freedom to create a different character. And that is what Thursday night’s production showcased.
She Has It
On this night, Peretyatko-Mariotti showed that she has the technique and virtuoso power to cope with this difficult repertoire. No, her C#s, Ds and E flats are far from ideal, but we must remember bel canto is not about high notes. It is about long lines breath control and beautiful tone. It is about communicating the text and music. It is about acting up a storm and understanding the characters with clarity.
The moment the Russian soprano walked on stage she was Lucia and she was on edge. Her face of terror and wonderment was ever-present as she sang the opening lines of “Regnava nel Silenzio” spinning a gorgeous legato line with ease and adding a deep and full chest voice that floated expansively through the Met stage. The voice, rich in resonance, created a darker sound that emphasized the character’s temperament. As she interacted with the ghost in her aria, Peretyatko-Mariotti interpreted it as a vision, giving it a sign of madness. And in her “Quando Rapito in Estasi,” the character of the voice became brighter, adding more nuance. There was control of the roulades and one felt the joy from each variation. Additionally, she became more playful on stage and her face took on a smile that permeated throughout.
Peretyatko-Mariotti further developed these elements of emotional instability in her scene with Enrico. As she attempted to gain control, she was pushed away by her brother. Vocally she tried to use her full power in the recit portion but while on the ground, the soprano’s voice took on a fragile color in the second portion of the duet. She sang with a smooth legato and impeccable breath control. Each phrase grew in volume but was always contained as if trying to restrain her emotions. Never in this battle wills was this Lucia ever going to win.
Distressed in her subsequent scene with Raimondo, the Russian star looked for a solution to her torment. In a moment she took a knife from Enrico and meditated the thought of killing herself. But instead, she hid it running off stage.
The fragility of Peretyatko-Mariotti’s Lucia only developed in the wedding scene. During the famed sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento,” the singing actress retained the fragile quality in her voice. Her high notes were impeccably sung with clarity and good projection. She easily sang over the immense ensemble without ever pushing her full power. It was only in the second portion that the soprano tapped into her chest voice to let out her massive sound that even matched Grigolo’s volume. And during this moment, it became a confrontation between Lucia and Edgardo, yet another battle of wills that really reminded this critic of the power of great direction and staging. This was the climax of the opera and it was also some of the best drama the Met stage has seen in the past months.
But the opera does not end there. Everyone waits for the Mad scene and Peretyatko-Mariotti didn’t disappoint, at least not for this reviewer. For those expecting high flying top notes, this soprano was not going to rely on those cheap tricks that so are so often the crux of not so great actors. Peretyatko had already created a character throughout the past hour and a half that was slowly going mad. So when she walked on stage for “Il Dolce suono,” her eyes showed a deranged woman lost in hallucinations. From her opening phrases, there was a vulnerability that easily turned to full chest voice. When it came time go to the stratospheric parts of her voice, Peretyatko sang with ease, the coloratura roulades each got a sense of meaning as she emphasized each word. What made this scene even more unpredictable was the change of character. She started off violent, threatening the chorus members with a knife and quickly moved toward erotism, taking a chorus member and caressing him throughout “Ardon gli incensi.” The voice also took a suave and sensual tone that emphasized these lustful actions.
But what made these even more impactful was the diva’s cadenza with the glass harmonica. Opting out of the traditional cadenza, Peretyatko-Mariotti tried a new version that used the glass harmonica, giving the moment a haunting atmosphere. As the glass harmonica followed Lucia’s melody, Peretyatko moved toward the instrument, almost as if she was following her hallucinations. Each time she got closer to it, her erratic movements intensified as she tried to find the sounds. Her high notes grew in volume and power. What started as delicate roulades, became more frantic. Only when she came to the reprisal of “Verrano a te” did the voice take on softer and floating timbre. But even in this moment of the piece, a new set of variations were added. Lucia was trying to find the melody. A variation of some sort was first sung but quickly devolved into something else. It was as if Edgardo was fading from her and what was returning was her somber “Regnava nel Silencio.” And as the cadenza turned toward the climax Peretyatko-Mariotti’s voice grew in size, the high notes obtained a richer sound and her movements became more erratic. She opted out of the final E flat at the end, but that choice added to the dark character of this scene.
Her subsequent interactions with Enrico showed the power struggle between brother and sister, this time Lucia taking force in her madness. The soprano growing more uncontrollable in her movements. And it all climaxed in a hallucination of a baby. During her “Spargi d’amaro” Peretyatko wrapped her veil as baby caressing it with tenderness and handing it to her maid. It was a rich moment of drama. Sadly Peretyatko’s cabaletta was a mixed bag with a number of cut notes and questionable fiorturas that lacked in clarity. Her final E flat fell very flat and was almost inaudible. The result was a tepid applause. But regardless of the flaws in the cabaletta, it was hard to overlook her dramatic intent and “Il doce suono,” which was intoxicating.
A Desperate Lover
Vittorio Grigolo is an artist who has become unpredictable every time he goes on stage. While his Cavaradossi in “Tosca” was unhinged and a bit over the top, his Hoffman was more restrained and ultimately more effective. So it was always going to be interesting to see what his Edgardo would be like. The moment he walked on stage he burst with energy singing with a powerful resonance that filled the theater. One knew this interpretation would be filled with extremes and like his Lucia, this Edgardo was bittersweet and in many ways mad. Grigolo’s opening phrase of the love duet “Sulla tomba che rinserra” was sung with a beautiful piano that crescendoed with ease. But the use of these crescendos suggested a sense of pain in Edgardo. In “Veranno a te,” Grigolo sang with passion and intensity matching his soprano’s more leggero sound quality.
The already on-edge Edgardo fell to complete madness during the sextet. The tenor opened up completely in the second part of the sextet “T’allontana Sciagurato” allowed his full volume to blast through the hall, singing with what sounded like no control. But Grigolo was in full control of the scene, making each moment count. When he discovers he has been betrayed, Grigolo gave each text an extra accent to emphasize the violence and desperation. And his actions on stage also matched the intensity. At one point, Grigolo took Peretyatko-Mariotti and pushed her to the ground and then pushed chorus members aside, throwing seats left and right all around the stage. He then took a sword and looked at Lucia, asking her to stab him and end his life. If Lucia is famous for a mad scene, this evening was filled with at least two mad scenes. Grigolo pushed the limits during this finale and he clearly stole the show.
But he was not finished as his final double aria was visceral. If it wasn’t the most polished singing, that didn’t matter because the expression of pain was what counted. His “Tu che a dio spiegasti l’ali” was a display of singing acting to perfection. Sure you may say it was over the top but each phrase sounded like one last breath. One really believed this was a man who had just stabbed himself and that was what made this so effective.
Whatever applause he received at the end was well-deserved as this was an artist who had a clear vision of his character and of the repertoire style.
The Low Voices
As Enrico, Massimo Cavalletti had a mixed evening. The baritone possesses a rich and robust sound that easily carries through the hall and in his opening aria “Cruda Funesta smania,” he began with much potential. However, his voice went thin when he went to his higher register. It seemed like nerves kicked in and in his cabaletta, Cavalletti continuously anticipated the music singing, ahead of the orchestra.
But things improved during his duet with Lucia. Here the baritone used his rich legato to an imposing effect, singing with assurance and beauty. Only in the second part “Sei Tradirmi” did he once again rush and go out of a tune. But what made this scene dynamic and what made this Enrico an overall success was Cavalletti’s interpretation. Unlike most Enricos, who are cerebral, this was a man who acted on his emotion. Like Lucia and Edgardo he too was mad. Cavalletti’s Enrico acted out of impulse. In his duet with Lucia, one saw a violent figure who was about to hit Lucia and the next moment repent for his action, hiding in the back of his study as Lucia sang her phrases. Then in the sextet, Cavalletti’s Enrico, rather that controlling himself, went face to face with Edgardo, easily inciting a duel which would later come in the duet. During the mad scene, this Enrico was violent but quickly shifted to remorse allowing, some redemption to the character.
If the voice wasn’t always one hundred percent, Cavalletti had a vision for his Enrico and it was an overall successful characterization.
As Raimondo, Vitalij Kowaljow was potent throughout the evening. But it was his aria in Act three where he got to show his pure vocal tone that resonated with power and force.
The cast was rounded out by Deborah Nansteel who made a solid debut as Alisa and Gregory Schmidt, who sang with clarity in the role Normanno. Mario Chang showed promise in the small, but crucial role of Arturo, bringing out a bright lyric tone.
A Spectacular Conductor
In the pit, Roberto Abbado led Donizetti’s score with swift tempi, always driving the action forward. Not once did the tempi ever feel languid or overdone, particularly in his strettas. The quick tempi allowed Donizetti’s music to create a more dramatic effect that sometimes lacks when conductors opt for slower tempi.
He also emphasized the rhythms and the dark colors of the score, particularly in his opening prelude. It was foreboding and created a ghostly atmosphere with the use of the brass.
But the standouts of the orchestra were by far harpist Emmanuel Ceysson and Glass Harmonica player Fredrich Heinrich Kern. Both showed virtuosity in their sections. Ceysson created angelic colors with harp introduction to Lucia, while Kern accompanied Peretyatko-Mariotti to perfection, following her dynamics and creating what felt like a duet in the mad scene cadenza.
All in all, this may not have been the perfect “Lucia” performance, but it was a night filled with extreme emotions and two incredibly gifted musicians who added their stamps to this repertoire staple.