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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lucia di Lammermoor

The blood-stained bride returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Well, the bride was a picture in the gown that her mama wore
When she was married herself nearly twenty-seven years before
They had to change the style a little but it looked just fine
Stayed up all night, but they got it finished just in time." --Nick Lowe
Everything dies: Vittorio Grigolo and Olga Peretyatko in Lucia di Lammermoor.
Photo © 2018 Richard Termine for the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Mary Zimmerman's controversial, deeply weird and really fun take on Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, for some the ultimate expression of the bel canto style. And yes, this is the opera with the blood-splattered wedding dress.

What is Lucia di Lammermoor?
Gaetano Donizetti's opera is (along with Bellini's Norma) the most important, most beloved example of bel canto tragedy. Bel canto means "beautiful song," and the Donizetti style requires just that: long vocal lines, a high tessitura, and above all, a sweetness of tone and delivery, even in the most histrionic moments.

What's the plot of Lucia di Lammermoor?
Based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, this is the story of two rival families and the secret affair between Lucia Ashton and Edgardo Ravenswood. When she is forced by her evil brother Enrico to marry Arturo Bucklaw, she goes completely cuckoo-bananas and kills her hubby dead on their wedding night. Yes, it has every operatic cliché you can think of but that's why it's so great!

What's the music like?
There's a reason that the travails of the bride of Lammermoor has held the operatic stage for almost two centuries: this is a masterpiece of construction. There is tension, there is drama, there is an amazing Act I sextet where all the plot points come boiling to the surface. If all that isn't enough the soprano has the 17-minute "Mad Scene" where a stunned, blood-splattered Lucia retreats into insanity rather than confront the fact that she's just killed her husband on their wedding night. And the fireworks aren't over.

How's the production?
Mary Zimmerman opted to set the first half of Lucia against a serie of filmed backgrounds representing the lochs, mountain crags, and natural scenery of the Scottish highlands. As Lucia descends into madness, things start to get weird. The Mad Scene is sung on a stand-alone grand staircase, beneath a giant moon. And as to the fate of the tenor, you'll just have to see for yourself.

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
African or European swallow?
I don't know that. Ask Arturo Bucklaw.

Who's in it?
This revival features two equally formidable casts. The March run stars soprano Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti in the title role, opposite Vittorio Grigolo as her enthusiastic beau Edgardo. His rival is played by Massimo Cavalletti. The second team is soprano Pretty Yende (though Jessica Pratt will sing two performances) tenor Michael Fabiano and up and coming barihunk Quinn Kelsey.  Vitalij Kowaljow and Alexander Vinogradov sing Raimondo. All are worthy. Roberto Abbado conducts.

Why should I go see it?
The combination of singers in this much loved opera should make for a fiery and enjoyable revival. And Lucia is the sort of tragedy that can be really fun if the singing is good.

When does it open?
The show opens with the first cast on March 22, 2018. The second cast takes the stage in April.
Where can I get tickets?
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?

Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala cond. Herbert von Karajan (EMI, 1955)
Lucia: Maria Callas
Edgardo: Giuseppe di Stefano
Enrico: Rolando Panerai
Maria Callas made three recordings of Lucia: in 1953, '55, and '56. The '55 recording pairs La Stupenda with conductor Herbert von Karajan and tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. This is an exciting live recording of the opera. There are some traditional cuts, stage noises, and mono sound.

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Thomas Schippers (ABC/Westminster, 1970)
Lucia: Beverly Sills
Edgardo: Carlo Bergonzi
Enrico: Piero Cappucilli
One of the great Beverly Sills recordings of the major Donizetti operas from the 1970s, this set boasts a knockout pairing of Carlo Bergonzi and Piero Cappucilli. Sills takes more of the bel canto "songbird" approach to the role, navigating the Mad Scene with fearless control and dazzling coloratura. Back in the catalogue, thanks the the Universal Classics decision to reissue recordings from the defunct ABC label.

Orchestre de l'Opera National de Lyon cond. Evelino Pido (Virgin Classics, 2002)
Lucie: Natalie Dessay
Edgar: Roberto Alagna
Henri: Ludovic Tezier
Natalie Dessay in the role of Lucia--make that Lucie. Yes, this is the French version of the opera, and the only recording of Gaetano Donizetti's 1838 revision of the opera for the Paris stage. Featuring Roberto Alagna (who always sounds better in his native language) and Ms. Dessay's fearless assault on the Mad Scene, this set presents an engaging alternative version.

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