Donizetti may be one of the best things to happen to Sir Walter Scott. And with the return of Lucia di Lammermoor to the Met Opera stage last night, Albina Shagimuratova is one of the best things now going for Donizetti.
The Russian soprano captivated a first night audience with her bravura performance as the doomed Scottish lass, culminating in a heart-stopping Mad Scene that can take its place among those of the storied singers who have made the role a signature of their virtuosity.
Donizetti wrote his opera in 1835, with a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano based on Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor, and it became an instant success with the character of Lucia Ashton becoming the personification of a woman thwarted in love by a father who demands she marry another against her will in an effort to save the family's fortunes.
The plot is a simple one. Lucia has fallen in love with Edgardo di Ravenswood, who is the mortal enemy of her father, Enrico Ashton di Lammermoor. Lucia and Edgardo plight their secret troth, but Enrico forges a letter from Edgardo saying he has fallen in love with somebody else, and Lucia reluctantly agrees to marry Arturo, her father's choice. This turn of events drives Lucia to a complete mental meltdown and it all ends in bloody murder, death and suicide.
The opera, with some of the most beautiful and dramatic music of the Romantic era, became so familiar to 19th-century Europe that several novelists alluded to it in their work. Flaubert has Emma Bovary attend a performance of Lucia in Madame Bovary, and Tolstoy wrote a description of a performance in Anna Karenina.
The roster of sopranos who have sung Lucia to stake their claim to bel canto credentials is long -- Pons, Melba, Callas and Sutherland to name just a few from the past, and more recently at the Met, Natalie Dessay, Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko.
Shagimuratova can join the list. She is apprehensive in her opening aria "Regnava nel silenzio" as she recounts seeing the ghost of a woman who was murdered near the fountain where she waits to meet Edgardo. Then when her thoughts turn to Edgardo, she beams and sings like a woman in love, full of joy and with silvery runs in "Quando, rapito in estasi."
The role is a demanding one, especially in the Mad Scene, a long passage of vocal dexterity that is one of the most liltingly lovely yet desperate pieces of music in all opera. Shagimuratova, singing in only her second role at the Met, hits every note squarely with ringing brilliance, and with only a solo flute for accompaniment, exquisitely played by Stefan Ragnar Hoskuldsson, evokes all the pathos of a deranged mind struggling with an ill-fated love.
The Met has assembled an excellent all-round cast for this round of performances of Lucia, which will be repeated seven more times this season. The tenor Joseph Calleja carried on in the role of Edgardo, though an announcement at the beginning said he had been suffering from the flu. There was indeed some strain in Calleja's opening act duet with Shagimuratova ("Ah! Verranno a te sull'aure") but he became vocally stronger as the evening went on.
By the third act, Calleja's voice had regained its brightness and the back-to-back arias in the final scene -- "Tombe degli avi miei" and "Fra poco a me ricovero" -- were wonderfully moving and tragic.
The Italian baritone Luca Salsi, also in only his second Met appearance, was splendid as Enrico. From the opening "Cruda, funesta smania" his rich powerful voice conveyed a man enraged yet one used to commanding and having his way. When he and Calleja face off at the end of Act 2, they circle each other like snarling dogs in their rousing duet. And the English basso Alastair Miles was excellent as Raimondo, the Lammermoor chaplain and Lucia's tutor.
Maurizio Benini conducted the Met Orchestra in a well-paced reading of the score. If the overture began with a certain deliberateness of foreboding, Benini proceeded at almost a gallop as the manhunt of the opening scene gets under way and the tempo throughout remained in step with the action onstage.
Mary Zimmerman's 2007 production, which moves the story to the 19th century, still conjures the bleakness of the wild and barren Scottish countryside, though there's not a kilt in sight. She actually brings the ghost in Lucia's story onstage, slowly wandering around the set before disappearing in the fountain, a theatrical addition that can be distracting to audience and soprano alike. But the grand staircase with a minstrel in the final act gives Lucia a spectacularly dramatic entrance for the Mad Scene.
World famous Mariinsky Ballet and Opera - established 1783
Running time: 3 hours 15minutes
Schedule for Gaetano Donizetti "Lucia di Lammermoor" (tragic opera in three acts) 2018
Lighting Designer: Gleb Filshtinsky
Musical Director: Gianandrea Noseda
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Stage Director: David Doiashvili
Set Designer: Teimuraz Murvanidze
Principal Chorus Master: Leonid Teplyakov
Musical Preparation: Ilona Yansons
Orchestra: Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra
opera in three acts
Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Production by David Doiashvili (2000)
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano after Sir Walter Scott`s novel The Bride of Lammermoor
Performed in Italian
�World premiere: 26 September 1835, Teatro San Carlo, Naples;
�Premiere of this production: 14 April 2000, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
The Performance has two intermissions
Lucia di Lammermoor is a dramma tragico (tragic opera) in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvatore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor. Very successful from creation, today it remains one of the leading bel canto operas.
The opera premiered on September 26, 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Donizetti revised the score for a French version which debuted on August 6, 1839 at the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris.
Some sopranos, most notably Maria Callas, have performed the role in a relatively come scritto ("as written") fashion, adding minimal ornamentation to their interpretations. Most sopranos, however, add ornamentation to demonstrate their technical ability, as was the tradition in the bel canto period. This involves the addition and interpolation of trills, mordents, turns, runs and cadenzas. Almost all sopranos (most famously Joan Sutherland) append cadenzas to the end of the "Mad Scene", sometimes ending them on a high E-flat. Maria Callas often opted not to sing the E-flat; however, under the baton of Serafin, the Greek soprano ended the mad scene with an E-flat.
Some sopranos (most notoriously, Ruth Welting) have sung the mad scene in Donizetti's original F major key, ending it with a high F natural instead of transposing it one step down to the E-flat major key.
For decades Lucia was considered to be a mere showpiece for coloratura sopranos and was a little-known part of the operatic repertory. However, after World War II, a small number of technically-able sopranos, the most notable of whom were Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, revived the opera in all of its original tragic glory. Sutherland's performances in the role at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1959 and repeated in 1960 established Lucia as her calling card.
Since its revival, Lucia di Lammermoor has become a staple of the standard operatic repertoire, and appears as number thirteen on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America
Lucie de Lammermoor
The French version is not performed as often as the Italian, but it was revived to great acclaim by Natalie Dessay and Roberto Alagna at the Opera de Lyon in 2002. It was also co-produced by the Boston Lyric Opera and the Glimmerglass Opera in 2004.
The story concerns a feud between two families, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods. When the opera begins, the Ashtons are in the ascendancy and have taken possession of Ravenswood Castle, the ancestral home of their rivals. Edgardo (Sir Edgar), Master of Ravenswood and last surviving member of his family, has been forced to live in a lonely tower by the sea, known as the Wolf's Crag. The Ashtons, despite their success, are threatened by changing political and religious forces. Enrico (Lord Henry Ashton) hopes to gain the protection of the important Arturo (Lord Arthur Bucklaw) to whom he intends to marry his sister Lucia (Lucy).
Scene 1: The gardens of Ravenswood Castle
Normanno (Norman), captain of the castle guard, and other retainers are searching for an intruder. He tells Enrico that he believes that the man is Edgardo, and that he comes to the castle to meet Lucia. It is confirmed that Edgardo is indeed the intruder. Enrico reaffirms his hatred for the family and his determination to end the relationship.
Scene 2: By a fountain at the entrance to the park, beside the castle
Lucia waits for Edgardo. In her famous aria Regnava nel Silenzio, Lucia tells her maid Alisa (Alice) that she has seen the ghost of a girl killed on the very same spot by a jealous Ravenswood ancestor. Alisa tells Lucia that the apparition is a warning and that she must give up her love for Edgardo. Edgardo enters. For political reasons, he must leave immediately for France. He hopes to make his peace with Enrico and marry Lucia. Lucia tells him this is impossible, and instead they take a sworn vow of marriage and exchange rings. Edgardo leaves.
Scene 1: Lord Ashton's apartments in Ravenswood Castle
Preparations have been made for the imminent wedding of Lucia to Arturo. Enrico worries about whether Lucia will really submit to the wedding. He shows his sister a forged letter seemingly proving that Edgardo has forgotten her and taken a new lover. Enrico leaves Lucia to further persuasion this time by Raimondo (Raymond), Lucia's chaplain and tutor, that she should renounce her vow to Edgardo, for the good of the family, and marry Arturo.
Scene 2: A hall in the castle
Arturo arrives for the marriage. Lucia acts strangely, but Enrico explains that this is due to the death of her mother. Arturo signs the marriage contract, followed reluctantly by Lucia. At that point Edgardo suddenly appears in the hall. Raimondo prevents a fight, but he shows Lucia's signature on the marriage contract to Edgardo. He curses her, demanding that they return their rings to each other. He tramples his ring on the ground, before being forced out of the castle.
Scene 1: The Wolf's Crag
Enrico visits Edgardo to challenge him to a duel. He tells him that Lucia is already enjoying her bridal bed. Edgardo agrees to fight him. They will meet later by the graveyard of the Ravenswoods, near the Wolf's Crag.
Scene 2: A Hall in Ravenswood castle
Raimondo interrupts the marriage celebrations to tell the guests that Lucia has gone mad and killed her bridegroom. Lucia enters. In the aria 'Il dolce suono' she imagines being with Edgardo, soon to be happily married. Enrico enters and at first threatens Lucia but later softens when he realizes her condition. Lucia collapses. Raimondo blames Normanno for precipitating the whole tragedy.
Set design for iii.3 by Francesco Bagnara, ca 1844 (Civica Raccolta Stampe Bertarelli Milan)Scene 3: The graveyard of the Ravenswood family
Edgardo is resolved to kill himself on Enrico's sword. He learns that Lucia is dying and then Raimondo comes to tell him that she has already died. Edgardo stabs himself with a dagger, hoping to be re-unified with Lucia in heaven.