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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Opera Review: The Bloodless Bride

Lucia di Lammermoor returns at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's not the marrying kind: Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia di Lammermoor.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor has remained integral to the Italian opera repertory for almost two centuries. This is not because it's a great drama or a compelling story, but because its bel canto score is a superb vehicle for a soprano willing to go all-out in the opera's famous Act III Mad Scene.

On Tuesday night, the Metropolitan Opera presented another performance of Lucia in its 2008 Mary Zimmerman production, the one with real actors playing ghosts on Walter Scott's haunted moors. Stepping into the bloody wedding dress was Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratov, opposite tenor Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. Under the uninspired conducting of Maurizio Benini, this performance felt curiously empty, like a roller coaster in an abandoned amusement park, running without any riders on board.

Ms. Shagimuratova has the vocal equipment for Lucia, with a carefully trained upper registry and the requisite high notes for the part. But from her entrance in the first act, the whole performance sounded and felt calculated, as if she were navigating her way through instead of being involved in the part. In her first scene with Mr. Calleja, she did not seem like a young girl in love but like a conservatory student giving an awkward recital.

In the second act, the crucial Letter Scene with Enrico (Luca Salsi) failed to ignite, despite Mr. Salsi's enthusiastic scenery-chewing as her villainous brother. The performance finally showed signs of life in the big Act II sextet helped by contributions from the chorus ans  Mr. Calleja's wild-eyed entrance. However, the soprano sounded curiously contained even as her world shattered around her. And then came the wedding night, the Mad Scene and "Un dolce sono."

Donizetti himself died in in asylum, and this long aria and cabaletta is an almost perfect portrait of schizophrenia's effect on Lucia's shattered mind. While this performance (executed in the traditional blood-stained wedding dress on the far less traditional giant wooden staircase) had great moments it still lacked that last degree of dramatic coherence necessary to make it exciting. Even the playful duel between Ms. Shagimuratova and the principal flautist did not thrill, partially due to a bright hardness in her voice when she moved into the uppermost register.

Mr. Calleja had his issues too, plagued by Mr. Benini's insistence on odd phrasings and occasionally rushed tempos. Still, his performance culminated in an exciting "Fra poco", sung with relish and burly tone. His other strong moments were in the Tower Scene with Mr. Salsi and the long final suicide. In this staging, Edgardo's death is witnessed by heartless Ashton mourners and featured a mute visit from Ms. Shagimuratova as an undead Lucia.

The best performance here came from rising star Luca Salsi, whose Enrico was villainous and two-faced. With growling tone and a dusky sound, Mr. Salsi is a baritone on the rise in this ungrateful part. Alastair Miles may have had a cold, but he was a hollow-sounding and un-authoritative Raimondo. Theodora Hanslowe was a powerful Alisa, the loudest voice in the sextet. The stiff tenor of Matthew Plenk contributed little as Arturo. That said, he managed to get murdered (offstage) without stage blood spilling all over his tuxedo.

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