Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Libretto: Salvadore Cammarano, based on “The Bride of Lammermoor” by Sir Walter Scott
It is interesting to note that when Lucia di Lammermoor was premiered at the San Carlo in Naples in 1835, the star billing was in fact accorded to the tenor… Gilbert Duprez in this case (creator of the famous operatic high C from the chest). As such, the final scene, which showcases the tenor only, was intended to be the high point of the opera, not the soprano’s previous “Mad Scene”.
At the time of Donizetti, the term coloratura did not exist for women; all sopranos and mezzos were expected to have the requisite vocal equipment to sing everything, from Mozart to Bel Canto.
Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, who premiered the role of the eponymous heroine, did not fall into a certain fach or vocal specialization.
The designation “coloratura” came about in the 20th century, when the age of bel canto had been largely forgotten, and the operas of Verdi, Wagner, & Puccini called for generally bigger voices for increasingly bigger houses, with less demands for fioriture and agilità
A special kind of soprano with a lighter and more acrobatic voice had to be bred to interpret the surviving operas of Rossini, Bellini, & Donizetti, as well as Mozart and works from the previous Baroque era.
A soprano such as Lily Pons was labelled a “coloratura” soprano.
Prior the bel canto revival of the later 20th century, Lucia di Lammermoor, one of a handful of pieces of the period to have survived (others being Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’amore”, Bellini’s “Norma”, etc.), was dismissed by some as merely a vehicle to show off some popular prima donna.
In the wake of the modern revival, it is significant to note that the greatest exponents of this repertoire (e.g. Callas, Sutherland, Horne, & Caballé) generally had big (dramatic) voices but were also capable of florid and elaborately ornamental delivery, probably much in the style of Persiani.
The diminutive soprano Kathleen Kim who sang Lucia in this month’s Montreal production, tended more towards the lighter coloratura fach, but impressed nonetheless with her gorgeous voice and brilliant technique.
The much anticipated return of Montreal native tenor Frédéric Antoun in the role of Edgardo was deservedly merited.
Baritone Gregory Dahl made a strong statement as a secure and powerful Enrico.
The Choeur de l’Opéra de Montréal and l’Orchestre Métropolitain performed brilliantly, under the direction of Maestro Fabrizio Ventura.
The sets and lighting were aptly dark and brooding.
One liberty taken by stage director Michael Cavanaugh, which actually worked quite well, was at the end of the mad scene: the demented Lucia, stained with blood and gore, still clutching the dagger with which she has slain her husband in the nuptial bed, offers the dagger to some of the wedding guests and pitifully begs them to kill her. As no one acquiesces, she ultimately summons the courage to stab herself.
Makes sense….rather than die of “madness” as per the librettist’s original intention, she dies within a few hours of a self-inflicted wound.
The next production of l’Opéra de Montréal will be in January 2020… a contemporary piece, Benjamin/Crimps’ “Written On Skin”, which Buck or I will be reviewing on this page.
We will also be paying very close attention to Opera McGill’s production of Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” at the end of January.