Modernity in our eyes, tradition to our ears: LA Opera takes a contemporary approach to ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Sept. 27, 2022

LA Opera commenced their season with the premiere of “Lucia di Lammermoor” on September 17.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” was composed by Gaetano Donizetti and written by librettist Salvadore Cammarano in 1835. The bel-canto opera, meaning extremely dramatic and easy to follow, revolves around a forbidden love that is doomed to end by external pressures, an arranged marriage and volitional death.

There was no trace of Donizetti’s timeliness in this rendition. In any stage performance, curtains open to the theatrical set. In this case, a projector screen came down and what we thought was an opera premiere was now a film premiere. The audience looked like they were seeing the hand of God come down, awaiting with curiosity and disbelief — as was I. It seems like no matter how much we modernize opera or integrate current technology or culture into it, everything is met with a whine disguised as a concealed sigh. The purpose of the screen was to provide multiple perspectives but having a camera on stage dissolved the authenticity of a stage performance.

My eyes and ears seemed to be in two different centuries that night. Newly appointed resident conductor Lina González-Granados kept us grounded in the 1880s, implementing Donizetti’s verve through the orchestra. The set itself resembled a suburban town: blue wooden house, a mart, a pharmacy, a drive-in, a motel and a water tower. The strong regality in the original production was traded in for a family-run business for modern-day Lucia. Nothing that exciting but I must commend the detail in which each set displayed.

The performance starts with Lucia held at knifepoint by an intruder. Saved by her soon-to-be verboten lover, Edgardo, he and Lucia display their love with a premature kiss. The set then begins to revolve and introduces us to Enrico, Lucia’s brother, Normanno, the guardsman and Raimondo, the chaplain. Normanno, played by tenor Anthony León, opens the show with “Percorrete Le Spiagge Vicine.” León embodied a tempestuous character, evincing Lucia’s love for Edgardo. Enrico, played by baritone Alexander Birch Elliot, was the overburdened brother, head of the household with many responsibilities. The stress in his character engulfed every bone in his body including his voice. Although, he had an air of confidence that demanded our attention. Eric Owens, who played Raimondo, brought pacification to the desperation of both parties. The baritone voice was meant to come out in Donizetti’s music, and Owens brought the solemnity as well as the power in his performance.

Courtesy of Cory Weaver

Soprano Amanda Woodbury, Lucia, brought ease to her character as if she was a feather waiting for gravity to come pull it down. As for her vocal performance, she displayed a virtuosity that commandeered every bit of my aural and visual senses. Her earlier arias in the opera, “Quando Rapito In Estasi,” fortified her ammunition to perform with flair and prowess to the end. Edgardo, played by tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, was the passionate counterpart in this romance. Chácon-Cruz, in his performance, was a bit muted, seeming only reactive by Lucia’s side. Nevertheless, Chácon-Cruz took his character aflame and matched the intensity of Edgardo’s rage and love. I could see him subdued of pure emotion as he sang “Fra Poco A Me Ricovero” in which he had done with a force of conviction.

The only daughter once again doesn’t have a fighting chance in the aristocracy nor in the corporate world in this case. Familial pressures thrust upon the only daughter, the tragedy of a forbidden love and overreaction to said pressures – what makes this different from the rest? It’s Donizetti’s exhibitionism of operatic voice. He has a way of putting the voice first and everything else after. I believe there were two love affairs, disregarding, Lucia and Edgardo, Donizetti had a love affair with the voice of the coloratura soprano. 

The story of Lucia was a tragedy, not because of her love for Edgardo but because of her inability to express it. Just like many stories in this time, female leads aren’t characterized as heroines but as someone whose actions are impetuous, knowing full well the pressures they’re in. It begs the question of whether we should spotlight female leads like this, but also, we must remember that our reactive responses contribute to that effect. Lucia must be looked upon with kind eyes because her actions are the product of the circumstances she was put in.

Feature image courtesy of Cory Weaver  

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