Blood Feud Turned into Bloodbath

Stellar, no-holds-barred singing by all five principals marks the powerful “Lucia di Lammermoor” currently at the Santa Fe Opera, with Brenda Rae in the title role.

If in his most arresting drama the very Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti nudged the Walter Scott story away from Scotland, this production firmly transplanted it to Italy. Instead of kilts and bagpipe regalia, we get white-tie formals and gowns straight out of “La Traviata,” without so much as a Scottish moor or heath in the background (The minimal backdrop appears to be straight out of the US Steel factory).

The only authentic Scottish touch provided by Director Ron Daniels was the drinking cup with two handles at the wedding—a tradition in Walter Scott’s Edinburgh bailiwick maintained to this day.

The story is based on a 1669 tragedy. It’s a blood feud turns into a bloodbath, with three of the four top players dead by the finale. The unique element is the taxing and drawn-out Mad Scene of Lucia, seemingly abandoned by her lover and forced into a trumped-up marriage leading to the wedding-night murder of her husband. The blood-stained, pathetic Lucia sings canary-like in duets with a vintage glass harmonica while writhing about stage before a horrified but lingering wedding-party crowd—Hey, those Scottish Italians really know how to party all night!!

Despite her contrived writhing about stage, coloratura soprano Rae was a dazzling singer. Her timbre was lustrous and her range stunning, especially in the stratospheric flights above the staff. The duets with instruments were as exquisite as double stars in the sky. All sympathy flowed to the heroine, who had been deceived through multiple mail fraud while her true lover Edgardo was far off on a mission.

The men were uniformly strong, ringing the rafters at the Crosby Theatre, from the dramatic tenor of Edgardo (Mario Chang) to the villainous husband Arturo (baritone Carlos Santelli) and Lucia’s brother Enrico (Zachary Nelson). A happy discovery in a supporting role was the extra-tall, extra-expressive chaplain (basso Christian Van Horn).

Conductor Corrado Rovaris led the pit orchestra which neatly reproduced Donizetti’s rich horns and trombones. A deft touch was the divided cello section accompanying the final chorus. (While some here have complained that the hard-working string players are never mentioned by reviewers, it might be noted that this theater’s pit performers don’t come close to filling the hall with sound, in part because the 2,100-capacity hall has wide open side walls.)

Donizetti’s great melodic gift bleeds through in both the act-one love duet as well as the Sextet, where antagonists express contrasting views in total harmony…One advantage here was the inclusion of the “Wolf’s Crag” scene, so often cut, showing the furious animosity between Edgardo and Enrico leading to their duel.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” by Donizetti, in Italian, with supertitles. Santa Fe Opera, Crosby Theatre. Two hours, 40 minutes; one intermission. For SFO info: (800) 280-4654, or go online.


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