Palau de Les Arts 2018-19 Review: Lucia Di Lammermoor
Jessica Pratt Reminds Us Why She’s The Lucia of Our TimeBy Mauricio Villa
(Credit: ©Miguel Lorenzo y Mikel Ponce)
The opera season of Valencia finished with the tragic and romantic “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which was receiving just its second run of performances in the opera house’s 14-year history. This time around it featured an adequate cast, an inspiring production, and a passionate reading of the score by Roberto Abbado.
A Gloriously Rich Production…
It was the most beautiful production of this opera that I have seen in recent years. With a thoughtful and wise use of video projections on realistically inspired sets, Rudy Sabounghi manages to recreate the landscapes of Scotland and a magnificent castle hall.
The curtain rises up after the prelude and you see a Cliff where the waves brake on a cloudy sky (all projections). The sun rises up, the tide goes down, and the chorus who had sung the opening passage on the edge of the cliff climbs down to the beach as Enrico and Raimondo make their entrance at the top of the mountain.
For the second scene of Act one, you have a real fountain with water pouring down, embedded in a rocky formation with nature all around the scene. The magnificent and vast hall of the Ashton castle, the cemetery for the last scene, every single set was a romantically meaningful recreation of 17th century Scotland. It was not only incredibly beautiful to watch but deeply suggestive.
Laurent Castaing did a remarkable job lighting the production, creating strong atmospheres that reflected the psychology of the characters. At one point, there was a sudden change from bright lights to a cold blue for the Sextet “Chi mi frena.” It is a production where you don’t have to imagine, interpret or wonder what you are seeing on the stage and a lesson of how modern technology and set production can reproduce what the authors wrote nearly 200 years ago.
…Hampered BY A Non-Exitent Director
Unfortunately, the stage direction of the singers was non-existent.
Jean-Louis Grinda moved the singers from one position to the other without any dramatic sense, leaving the performers in a continuum of cliché movements and predictable reactions with no deep characterization or psychology behind.
Even when Enrico slaps Lucia in their duet in Act two, it created a comic effect with some laughter in the auditorium rather than a dramatic climax. Few original ideas that he put into the action were more successful.
Lucia pays attention to a spear at the end of the second act concertante, just before hitting her final high D, anticipating that she is going to kill Arturo with it, as she does later on, but we must wonder: Does Lucia really conceive a killing in cold blood in that very moment when she is suppose to kill Arturo after losing her mind on her wedding night?
Grinda decides to kill Edgardo by having him jump from the cliff at the end of “Tu che a Dio” instead of the original conception. The score has Edgardo wound himself and the resulting music features a series of detached phrases that emphasize his loss of strength. As directed, Edgardo is caressing the dead Lucia and his phrases represent him imploding emotionally. Tenor Yijie Shie, who played Edgardo, had the difficult task of interpreting this part and trying to make sense between what he is singing and his actions.
Jessica Pratt Reigns Supreme
The young English soprano Jessica Pratt sang the title role. She knows the part well as she debuted professionally with this character and it is the role that she has sung the most ( around 150 performances). On opening night she showed exactly why she is a major exponent of this opera.
With a lirica-leggera voice, a crystalline timbre, long fiato and brilliant, secure high notes, she portrayed a fragile woman who is nonetheless very determined to fight for her love and confront her brother before finally succumbing to madness.
She sang her entrance aria “Regnava nel silenzio” and cabaletta “Quando, rapito in estasi” flawlessly, with all the high notes and variations imposed by tradition; she even added an unexpected interpolated high D during the phrase “è conforto al mio pensier” but her voice sounded a bit subdued and small, something which changed throughout the performance, offering a rich forceful sound with ringing and sustained high notes. The effect of how she sung “Ah! Verranno a te sull’aure” in a single breath and a soaring piannisimi was breath-taking. She seemed to be whispering rather than singing.
She confronted her long scene with Enrico and Raimondo in Act two with great courage, which is very hard for her type of voice, as the writing is very central and low. I guessed that singing the duet with Enrico one tone higher as Donizetti intended would have suited her better than the imposed key of G mayor (there have been some productions and recordings in later years restoring the original keys of the score). Her voice soared freely over the orchestra and whole ensemble during the famous sextet “Chi mi frena,” which was warmly welcomed by the audience, and the final concertante, which she coronated with a long well-supported high D.
But it is during the mad scene that sopranos are really tested and Pratt passed this test with flying colors. She was aggressive, frightened, dreamy and menacing. She put all her experience into this role to fill the emptiness of the staging, presenting a believable mad scene, which was measured and extremely moving. She performed all the traditional variations and cadenzas accompanied by the glass harmonica, giving a true sense to the coloratura rather than being a simply vocal display.
She concluded her performance doing a crescendo on her final never-ending high E flat; when the note was well secure and ringing, she managed to make it bigger, almost as if Lucia was screaming desperately. It was a cry from her soul and it was utterly astounding.
Yijie Shi, who debuted at the Rossini Pesaro Festival in 2008 took the part of Lucia’s lover Edgardo. Having a Lirico leggero voice but with an obscure timbre and fair vibrato, he gave a romantic interpretation of the role, perfect in style and secure on the high register. He was far more comfortable in lyrical moments like the duet with Lucia in Act one or his final scene in Act three, lacking temperament during the most dramatic interventions, like his violence outburst with Lucia “Maledetto sia l’instante” in Act two or his duet with Enrico in Act three.
He was impeccable in his aria “Tombe degli avi miei” offering a sensational diminuendo on the G during the phrase “del tuo consorte a lato…ah!” and a perfect clean attack on the high B natural at the end of the aria. He began “Tu che a Dio” with pianissimo sound, giving contrast by interpreting all the crescendos and diminuendos of “ Ah! bell’alma innamorata” present in the score. This further colored the difficult high passage. He was cold on the stage, unable to fulfill the emptiness of the staging.
The role of Enrico was entrusted to Alessandro Luongo, who simply accomplished a very correct interpretation of his role. Despite having a lyrical voice, which is easy on his higher register, he lacked drama and his voice seemed small for the vigorous orchestral sound that Abbado demanded. Enrico is a bravura role, beginning the opera under the heavy stress of saving his family’s future which forces him to engaged his sister into a undesired marriage for political reasons. This adds a profound enmity to the Ravenswood family and its lone representative Edgardo. Enrico is best characterized by fury, mischief and anger, and this should be represented vocally in his aria “Cruda funesta smania,” his duet with Lucia in Act two or his confrontation with Edgardo in Act three. He had problems with the coloratura in the passage “E il furor degli elementi” which turned out blurred and difficult.
The magnificent Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov reprised the role of Raimondo in Valencia after a run of performances at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich which ended just the previous week. His voice is really impressive, though perhaps it is more adequate for Verdi, German, or Russian repertoire. His rotund big sound is a reminder of the big bass singers from the past like Boris Christoff, but he knows how to handle his instrument, softening the sound and singing floating legato phrases in his arias “Ah, cedi, cedi” and “Dalle stanze ove Lucia.”
However, his diction is unclear due to his technique of voice production. His sound is so round that you can not barely distinguished any consonants. He makes an effort by reinforcing the pronunciation of the consonants but still the result is uneven. He struggled to make his character alive and believable, a task which was easier in the Munich production, which I was fortunate enough to attend. In that production there was far deeper acting work and a complete understanding of the drama, which was lacking here.
The interpretation of the Spanish tenors Xabier Anduaga and Alejandro del Cerro in their respective roles as Arturo and Normanno was splendid; despite both being minor roles with short interventions, they are essential for the development of the drama and musical ensembles. Also notable was the appearances of the Coro de la Generalitat Valencia, especially the male section, which has more weight in this opera.
How To Do Bel Canto
Roberto Abbado showed once more how to extract a dense, powerful sound from the orchestra in a Bel Canto score where the orchestration is rather simple. He was cautious with the tempi but so meticulous with coloring and dynamics that he portrayed the different atmospheres that Donizetti captured with his music, such as the breaking of the waves, a storm, the sound of the water pouring down from a fountain, the fog on the Scottish landscapes, as well as the fragility of Lucia as expressed by the harp, wind section and strings in tremolo during her scenes.
He presented the score with minor cuts, like the coda of Lucia’s “Quando rapita in estasi,” the end of the duet between Lucia, and Enrico and the repetition of Raimondo’s “Al ben de’tuoi qual vittima;” he also chose the glass harmonica for the obbligato of Lucia’s mad scene as is regularly done in recent productions.
It was a marvelous production which was a pleasure to see and hear but which left you unsatisfied due to the poor stage directing of the performers.