Lyric Opera House Scene
Streaming into the Civic Opera building on an unseasonably warm late October afternoon, was a noticeable sprinkling of men in kilts. They competed for attention with the Cubs accessories here or there, and a most memorable “Make America Sane Again” bright green t-shirt peeking out of one man’s sport jacket. All such real-world pre-occupations had an extremely short half life in the Civic Opera house, where Lucia di Lammermoor’s tragic tale was about to begin.
Even before the curtain rises or lights to show its plaid backdrop, the bright red script saying “Lucia di Lammermoor” grabs your attention, and for those who already know the story, seems to be written in red blood, as an early harbinger of the blood bath to come in Act 3.
Lucia di Lammermoor Simple Plot
This opera has a simple story that never gets in the way of the main attraction—superb singing that exalts, thrills and transports.
The premise is that Lucia’s brother is forcing her to marry someone that will help save his fate and estate. Lucia though, had not only fallen in love with her brother’s arch rival, but had, in a fashion, secretly married him. That dooms her to madness, early death, and also bringing her two husbands—one de jure and one de facto—with her to their graves.
This is an easy-to-digest story line that doesn’t make you wrap your head around improbables like lovers dying in a New Orleans desert. Better, the simplicity of the story lets you dwell instead on the music of this bel canto classic.
Pithy Pre-Performance Lecture
For those of us lucky enough to have made time to hear the pre-performance lecture by Nicholas Ivor Martin, Lyric’s Director of Operations and Special Initiatives, the import of Lucia di Lammermoor being such a Bel Canto classic was driven home in his short accounting of the opera’s highlights. Martin, who as a child was a supernumerary in this opera, explained that unlike the Verismo operas that came later, in which the emotions are dead on but the melodies are not the highlight, these “pretty singing”, aka Bel Canto, operas are all about melody and harmony.
What a great reminder and one that created a frame for marvel at the production that followed.
Quinn Kelsey’s Voice – Pure Gem
For starts, by the story line we might think that the music for Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey playing Lucia’s bullying brother Enrico, might have the feel made for a villain. Not in this score! Whether he is singing of fury, how his sister shames him, his feelings of betrayal, or any other emotion that one thinks of as troubled or negative, the music is melodious, compelling and simply beautiful.
Of the many beautiful voices in this production, it was in this reviewer’s mind Quinn Kelsey’s that was the pearl among pearls. Some of us may remember a younger Quinn Kelsey singing with Grant Park Orchestra when he was with the Ryan Opera Center. His voice then was quite lovely, but like the best wines, his older voice today is something else again. Think of a delicious soup made all the tastier with thick rich cream added. Think of the feel of the most plush velour. His voice — so warm, so rich—is alone worth the price of admission.
Bel Canto Classic
It’s not just super-rich melody for Enrico. This is Bel Canto—whether its Lucia (Albina Shagimuratova) descending into madness, her lover Edgardo (Piotr Becazala) swearing his revenge, the chaplain Raimondo Bidebent (Adrian Sâmpetrean) recounting Lucia’s descent into madness, murderess and death—all- it’s one long beautiful song after another—Bel Canto in its most pure.
Riveting Throughout – Final Act is Best
Expect to be riveted, right from the start. Know though, that it is the third act that will absolutely take your breath away. Shagimuratova singing Lucia’s long aria in her maddened state is so, so beautiful. Not long after, Beczala’s turn at aria similarly transports you. It’s in this act also when most will hear the superb orchestra conducted by Enrique Mazzola so clearly—when the flute sings along with Lucia, or the cello and then clarinet shine as Edgardo kills himself in order to be reunited with Lucia.
This final act is also when Romanian bass Sâmpetrean commands the stage not only with his deep textured tones, but also with lighting effects that evoke the iconic image of Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount.
Lighting and Set Design Experiments
Lighting effects (Chris Maravich, Lighting Designer) were wonderful throughout, not only with this Sermon on the Mount iconography ,but also in accenting the lush flora of the moors (Paul Brown, Set and Costume Designer).
The set itself, with sliding screens in both vertical and horizontal directions, both worked superbly, but in some moments created short-lived panic that the Lyric was having the equivalent of an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. The latter was in the first act when the screens lowered from the top and raised from the bottom to give a sliver view of some chorus members’ torsos in the stage backspace. It seemed like a mistake. All was forgiven though in the final act when the moving screens and supersized moving moon created a small frame around the singers doing their spectacular arias, helping to focus attention in ways that the huge unaltered stage could not have done as easily.
Lucia di Lammermoor is a top pick for both seasoned opera-goers and opera newbies alike.