The Metropolitan Opera – Lucia di Lammermoor [Netrebko & Villazón]

Lucia di Lammermoor – Dramma tragico in three acts to a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor [sung in Italian with English Met Titles by Cori Ellison]

Normanno – Michael Myers
Lord Enrico Ashton – Mariusz Kwiecien
Raimondo – Ildar Abdrazakov
Lucia – Anna Netrebko
Alisa – Michaela Martens
Edgardo – Rolando Villazón
Arturo – Colin Lee

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera [Harp solo – Mariko Anraku; Flute solo – Pedro R. Diaz; Armonica solo – Cecilia Brauer]
Marco Armiliato

Mary Zimmerman – Production
Daniel Ostling – Set designer
Mara Blumenfeld – Costume designer
T. J. Gerckens – Lighting designer
Daniel Pelzig – Choreographer

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 26 January, 2009
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

Anna Netrebko as Lucia & Rolando Villazón as Edgardo. Photograph:  Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaThis performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor”marked the Metropolitan Opera reunion of the ‘dream team’ of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón. In the event, the dream was interrupted by some tossing and turning, but fortunately did not turn into a nightmare.

This production by Mary Zimmerman was premiered at the start of last season, with Natalie Dessay as Lucia and Marcello Giordani as Edgardo, and reprised at the beginning of the current season with Diana Damrau and Piotr Beczala in those roles. The production updates the action to the Victorian era and has few specific visual references to its Scottish setting. It creates a rather Gothic atmosphere visually through lighting effects as well as by bringing ghosts to life, and aurally through the eerie timbre of the armonica (or glass harmonica), which was called for in Donizetti’s original conception, but is usually substituted for by the flute part that Donizetti substituted in the final version of the score. The armonica, which was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1763, generates sounds using the same principle as rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a glass filled partially with water.

Anna Netrebko as Lucia & Mariusz Kwiecien as Enrico. Photograph:  Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaMarco Armiliato got the score off to a crackling start, but the opening scene sagged, with Michael Myers a bit weak as Normanno and the men’s chorus uncharacteristically ragged until the arrival of Enrico (Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien). His powerful voice virtually dripped with venom as he plotted an arranged marriage for his sister Lucia that would rescue the family from financial disaster, erupting in fury upon learning of Lucia’s love for Enrico’s political rival, Edgardo. Kwiecien infused every scene in which he appeared with vocal and dramatic excitement, particularly in his encounters with Lucia in Act Two and with Edgardo in the Wolf’s Crag scene at the beginning of Act Three (which many productions, including some previous ones at the Met, delete).

Lucia arrived, accompanied by her companion Alisa (ably sung by American mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens), for a pre-dawn rendezvous with Edgardo at a fountain in the woods. As Lucia told Alisa of having encountered the ghost of a girl who was stabbed by her jealous lover and entombed in the fountain, the ghost appeared, mirroring Lucia’s descriptive gestures and departing before Edgardo’s arrival. Netrebko was in fine voice in this scene, but Villazón’s did not generate musical electricity sufficient to match the dramatic chemistry of the lovers’ tryst, which culminated in an exchange of rings and mutual vows of fidelity.

Anna Netrebko as Lucia. Photograph:  Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaAct Two was highlighted by Lucia’s successive encounters with Enrico and Raimondo, the latter role sung excellently by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, and by the fine Met debut of South African tenor Colin Lee as Arturo, Lucia’s ill-fated bridegroom. The Act’s two scenes were delightfully bridged by the conversion, before the audience’s eyes, of what looked like an old storeroom into a ballroom, decked out for Arturo’s arrival. When Edgardo suddenly burst in to claim Lucia as his bride, only to learn that she had signed a contract to wed Arturo, he cursed Lucia and tore the ring he had given her from her finger.

The evening’s most troubled moment came at this point, when Villazón’s voice cracked on Edgardo’s top note as he invoked the wrath of God to destroy Lucia. Fortunately, Armiliato was alert enough to pause the orchestra for a brief moment, enabling Villazón to compose himself and then continue from the troubled note without further incident.

During the ensuing interval speculation was rife that Villazón might be unable to continue, and a murmur ran through the hall as Met general manager Peter Gelb appeared, microphone in hand. He reported that Villazón had not been feeling well, but would continue in order to avoid disappointing the audience. Happily, Villazón proved to be in much better voice in the final Act, beginning with the demanding Wolf’s Crag encounter with Edgardo and bringing the opera to a close with two big arias in the final graveyard scene.

The opera’s pièce de résistance is Lucia’s ‘Mad Scene’, and Netrebko carried it off most affectingly. Although she was inaccurate in some of her top notes, her lyrical voice and the accompanying armonica created an aura that evoked the supernatural vein that ran throughout the production. A final ghastly touch came in the opera’s final moments as Lucia’s ghost appeared before the dying Edgardo, mimicking his gestures just as the young girl’s ghost had matched Lucia’s in the first act.

Armiliato acquitted himself admirably, drawing out from the orchestra a reading of Donizetti’s score that succeeded in conveying both its delightfully lyrical and intensely dramatic moods. He also deserves a share of the credit, along with Villazón, for rescuing the conclusion of Act Two from potential disaster. After some early insecurity, the Met Chorus performed up to its usual high standard, particularly in the concluding scenes of Acts Two and Three.

  • Further performances on February 3 & 7, the last transmitted live in HD to cinemas in North America and Europe

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