ABAO Bilbao Opera 2019-2020 Review: Lucia di Lammermoor

Jessica Pratt Provides Reminder That She Remains The Top ‘Lucia’ Interpreter Today

By Mauricio Villa
(Credit: E. Moreno Esquibel/ABO)

On Oct. 19, 2020, the Bilbao Opera opened its 2019-20 season with Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lamermoor” in what was a complete success.

With a strong cast, a simple but effective production, and the expertise of conductor Riccardo Frizza, the ABAO reminded audience members of the high standards and quality that the company can offer.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” was composed in only six weeks, premiered September 26, 1835, was a complete success, and has been one of the few operas from the composer to continually hold the stage. Even if Lucia has always been the vehicle for leggera sopranos to showcase their vocal pyrotechnics, Donizetti broke the strict rules of his time by ending the opera with a tenor scene rather than a big aria for the prima donna. However, there is no doubting that it’s staying power is mainly attributable to its ability to highlight the vocal and dramatic powers of its leading lady.

This was undeniably the case at the ABAO.

A Signature Lucia

Jessica Pratt sang her 97th performance of the title role and by the end of the current run in Bilbao, she will reach her 100th performance; for some context, she first performed the role in 2007. With so many performances under her belt, it is safe to say that Lucia is Pratt’s signature role and she demonstrated her experience, talent and stratospheric high notes on this evening.

Pratt has a sweet lirico-leggera voice, with a dark, round, and strong center and sparkling high notes. Her vocal range goes from a low C to a high F and the rare decision to perform Lucia’s arias in the original key allowed the soprano to showcase her resonant High F at the conclusion of her mad scene.

In her entrance aria “Ancor non giunse… regnava nel silenzio… Quando rapito in estasi,” Pratt displayed a gorgeous mezza-voce and pianissimo sound, combining it with thrilling high notes. The aria was transposed one semitone higher (in A flat major), so Pratt’s voice sounded secure and well-projected during the recitative. She sang the phrase “Ascolta” as written, resolving down in a low F rather than transposing it one octave higher and gave it a frightening and suspenseful color.

“Regnava nel silenzio” is a difficult aria to sing for a leggero soprano, as the writing lies in the middle range and has a tendency to go down to the lower register. It also has some perilous intervals like in the phrase “e con la mano esanime,” going from a middle G to a high B flat that Pratt fluidly delivered with a tender pianissimo. Her trills at the end of the aria were clean and descended securely to middle G. Her cadenza, which was an original piece, was beautifully ornamented and culminated in a High C that she crescendoed beautifully.

But it is in the cabaletta with more florid and high vocal writing, where Pratt really came into her own, giving an exquisite high C pianissimo and soaring to a high E flat on the repetition. She also sang the entire coda twice, as written, and interpolated another high E flat during her second chromatic staccato line which ends in a high D flat. She ended the aria with a secure crystalline high E flat that showcased what Pratt was capable of doing throughout the evening.

(Credit: E. Moreno Esquibel/ABAO)


In her subsequent Act one duet with tenor Ismael Jordi, her voice blended nicely as she sang “Verrano a te sull’aure I miei sospiri ardenti” in a single breath. In Act two she succeeded in her duet with Enrico, which is considered the most difficult section for any leggero singer as the writing requires a developed middle and low voice. The scene is also very dramatic but Pratt made wise use of her middle-low register, keeping the sound in a higher position with round projection. The Enrico duet is also a challenge as it requires the soprano to sustain a low tessitura while expressing drama without pushing the sound, especially when matched with a heavier timbre like her Enrico, Juan Jesús Rodríguez. Pratt sang the traditionally interpolated high D at the end of her duet.

While Lucia is relegated to a few supporting phrases in her duet with Raimondo, the duet demands a strong singing-actor who can carry the emotional damage caused by Enrico and has to interpolate a High C at the end of the duet. Pratt was brilliant during this scene, showing her character’s vulnerability and showcased Lucia who was starting to lose her mind.

During the final scene of Act two Pratt showed a Lucia whose mind was already deteriorated once she was forced to marry Arturo and confront Edgardo. Pratt’s voice floated over the ensemble, orchestra, and chorus during the famous sextet “Chi mi frena;” she did the same during the stretta interpolating a long bright high D that expressed Lucia’s desperation.

But it is the mad scene, in Act three where all sopranos are judged for their dramatic and virtuosic skills. After singing nearly 100 performances as Lucia, Jessica Pratt was masterful in this scene. She embodied Lucia’s madness immersing herself in the acting and vocal demands completely. In this production, Pratt was asked to drag Arturo’s dead body onto the stage over a long dining table throughout “Il dolce suono” and she seemed frightened, lost, and paranoid as she stood on the table with the body.

All of this was combined with the thrill of listening to Pratt sing in the original key that Donizetti wrote in, a whole tone higher than it is usually performed. Only a few sopranos have attempted it, including Lily Pons, Mady Mesplé, Ruth Welting, and Mariella Devia. And on this night Pratt added herself to that select group, dispatching the aria with fluid vocal colors and constant ascensions to high Cs and Ds. The new tonality actually suited her voice better, making passages like “Al fin son tua” or “Del ciel clemente” easier to project in a mezza-voce.

During the cadenza, Pratt began singing the traditional one written by Mathilde Manchesi but changed it during the repetition of the famous “love theme” from Act one. Here she spun new coloratura phrases that reached an E natural before resolving down to a low F, something that fits the glass harmonica better and works with the composer’s original intentions, which concluded the section with the orchestra and chorus in a haunting melodic line. Ultimately her cadenza was dramatic, inventive, and displayed her vocal abilities.

The interlude between the aria and cabaletta was also dramatic as Pratt held a knife to Enrico’s neck, creating suspense in the scene. She would late use that same knife to attempt to cut her wrists before going into the cabaletta “Spargi d’amaro pianto.” Here she showed a full display of coloratura as well as unique trills that began pianissimo and ascended to a high C during the repetition. Most impressive was her final strong and sustained high F, which was audible over the ensemble and orchestra.

This performance proved once more that Jessica Pratt is one of the best interpreters of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” finding greater nuance in her interpretation.



Virtuosic Tenor

In the role of Edgardo, Spanish tenor Ismael Jordi, was taking on the part for the 75th time in his career. The tenor has a lyrical voice that contains a lighter tone than one would expect for the role of Edgardo. With a modest volume, it is astonishing how easily he projects in the auditorium. His vocal line can sustain long phrases in a single breath and can produce incredible crescendos, diminuendos, and soaring pianissimi. Edgardo seems to fit Jordi well as the orchestration in most of the role contains soft accompaniments.

However, it does have a number of bravura and dramatic moments such as the Act two wedding scene, “Hai tradito il cielo e amor, maledetto…,” when he curses Lucia for having married Arturo. Jordi produced a strong and menacing timbre that erupted in a powerful high B flat during this moment. He also kept this power throughout the final concertante, his voice consistently audible.

In Act three, he managed to deal with the high tessitura of his duet with Enrico, ascending into the passaggio with vigor and dispatching strong Gs and high As.

His interpretation of his final aria “Tombe degli avi miei” was impeccable, with clear diction and long legato phrases. Most notable was his breathtaking crescendo into a high G on the phrase “Tu delle gioje in seno” and his sustained B natural during his final cadenza. He also had a soaring crescendo and diminuendo on the phrase “per te” that closed his aria. His interpretation of the line “Lucia più non è!” was moving as he sang it in in mezza voce and in many ways was more effective the the forte one usually hears.

But the highlight of his performance was his final “Tu che a Dio.” In this final aria Jordi performed with all the dynamics written in the score and sang the first line “O bell’alma innamorata” in a single breath. He crescendoed during his chromatic ascension from F sharp and diminuendo on the final high A natural. More impressive was the fact that Jordi sang this difficult passage the way Donizetti intended with a piano sound and long breaths rather than the forte breaths in every bar that are usually sung. He culminated his performance with a high B flat in “Il nume in ciel” before falling over Lucia’s dead body.

A Solid Supporting Cast

Enrico, Lucia’s brother, was portrayed by Spanish baritone Juan Jesús Rodríguez. Since his debut in 1994, he has led a splendid international career and is one of Spain’s most accomplished singers. He has a potent voice, with a balanced timbre throughout his whole register from the lowest to the highest. Although he has focused on Verdi roles recently, on this evening he demonstrated how well he can sing in the Bel Canto repertoire.

While Enrico has little character evolution throughout the opera, it does require the baritone to show anger and violence and sing with vigor as well as legato and coloratura lines. Rodríguez sang his opening aria “Cruda funesta smania” and cabaletta “La pieta de in suo favour” with determination, style, and two thunderous high G’s.

But it was during the Act two and three duets with Lucia and Edgardo that Rodríguez really showcased his virtuosic powers. Both these duets are by far the most difficult pieces that Enrico sings throughout the evening. The duets are full of coloratura and even though the role is not high it lies in an uncomfortable tessitura for a baritone. Rodríguez sang each passage with fluid coloratura and a gorgeous legato line that garnered him a warm outburst of applause during his curtain call.

The young Croatian bass Marko Mimica performed the role of Raymond and offered a strong dramatic performance of Lucia’s mentor Raimondo. He possesses a sweet round timbre that is modest in volume and has total control of his breath, allowing him to sing all the legato passages that Donizetti wrote in his two arias “Ah cedi, cedi” and “Dalle stanze ove Lucia.” Mimica sang with astonishing warmth and displayed an impressive upper register, as he showed in his high F that concluded his scene with Lucia in Act two.

However, his lower register sounded weak and small particularly in his low F in “la tremenda maesta.” One highlight of Mimica’s performance was “Dalle stanze” during which he gave a tormented and moving performance.

A Haunting Production

The production directed by Lorenzo Mariani was simple but effective thanks to the set design by Maurizio Balo. The sets were gothic, gloomy and truthful to the original work and time period. The stage was made up of a cornered huge windowpane, using projections to give dynamism to the scenes. Projections included forest trees moving by wind, rain, fog and a stormy sea during the Edgardo-Enrico duet.

There were also different tables and chairs set for certain scenes which were used certain actions. During the mournful obscure prelude, while the French horns anticipate the tragedy, we see hanging woman figure in the shadows; later on, this figure will be revealed as Lucia when Raimondo exclaims “ Ella in terra più non e.” After darkening the back part of the stage, Lucia’s dead body has been placed in the center of the stage so Edgardo can sing his final “Tu che a Dio” to her.

The production was full of clever dramatic effects that reinforced the drama. Mariani directed every single scene with such detail that the characterization and relation of the characters was believable, moving, and truthful. The action was placed in a non-specific modern period but kept a strong Scottish sense, using the typical kilt for the male characters, while mostly in contrast between black and green, on the sets and on the costumes. It was a modern production with a strong and clear meaning, but always faithful to the music and the libretto.

Italian conductor Ricardo Frizza led the Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa showcasing his specialty in the Bel Canto repertoire. He offered a strong version of Donizetti’s score conducting with fast tempi in moments like “Se tradirmi,” “Maledetto sia l’instante,” and during the stretta in the finale of Act two.

He did, however, give time to singers to express and hold out certain moments and arias like “Il dolce suono,” creating strong contrast and tension in the music. This is something that is not easy to obtain in the bel-canto style, but Frizza was successful. For this performance, the conductor chose the critical edition by Gabiele Dotto and Roger Parker which restores the original keys of Lucia’s arias but he decided to keep the Lucia-Enrico duet in a lower key rather than the A major key present in Donizetti’s autograph score. Other than that he gave a complete reading of the score opening every cut and used the glass harmonica for the “mad scene,” Donizetti’s original intention.

With a strong cast, a meaningful and clever production, a masterful conductor, this was one of the most memorable “Lucia’s” in recent times.


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