The Met has a new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor . It opened the season and Lucia is on all the posters. The Lucia depicted is Natalie Dessay who sang the early performances. I saw Annick Massis , another French soprano who’s first performance at the Met was in 2002 as Lucia. The night promised some excitement as Edgardo was sung by Stephen Costello a young (26) American tenor who graduated only this year from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. He had made his Met debut as Arturo in this production a few weeks ago. No Young Artists program for him. Mariusz Kwiecien, an excellent Polish baritone was Lord Enrico Ashton. James Levine conducted.
The singers in Lucia are in the shadows of the greats of the past including Sutherland and Pavarotti. So if you are familiar with the recordings by these great artists, it’s as well not to expect their performances to be repeated every time. Annick Massis was a fine Lucia, beginning quietly but giving an indication of what was to come in the mad scene in the second act.
Unlike some of the great singers of the past, she actually looked like a young bride and her performance of the mad scene was dramatic.
A fascinating addition to the mad scene was the eerie sound of the Armonica. I am pretty certain that this instrument has not been used in any of the Opera Australia performances which I have seen. From my seat in the Grand Tier I could see down in to the orchestra pit where the spindle on the Armonica was whirring away. The instrument, which is a version of the glass harmonica, was invented by Benjamin Franklin, so it was nice to hear it in the USA. I found the Armonica player, Cecilia Brauer has an interesting web site - http://www.gigmasters.com/armonica/index.asp with pictures of the instrument.
Mr. Costello has a beautiful voice but he is not a light tenor and so sounds very masculine as well. He sang with an Italianate diction which was a little overdone. He was at his best when alone on stage in the tomb scene; and if, as I suspect Maestro Levine muted the orchestra a little for him, that’s one reason to have a great conductor in charge.
The production has the feeling of winter, with muted colours used to good effect in the sets and costumes. The main curtain is replaced by a screen with images of leafless trees.
At the beginning of Act 2, Ravenswood Castle looks really impoverished with drapes covering the furniture and chandeliers. Arturo must have brought his money with him as in Scene 2 all the drapes are removed and a large domestic staff appears to arrange things for the signing of the marriage contract. This scene is spoiled by the arrival of that popular piece of post modern kitsch, the photographer with compulsory magnesium flash. I will be armed in future and shoot down any supernumerary carrying photographic equipment. This photographer is kept busy during the sextet arranging a group wedding photograph. A serious distraction. Please just put the singers in a line and let them sing.
More was to come, in the person of a medical man with black bag, who attended Lucia during the mad scene. He administered some pacifying drug with a syringe. This was silly, but not such a serious distraction.
The walls Ravenswood Hall fell away for the mad scene to reveal a full moon, several times the size of the planet, Jupiter looming over everything. This may have been symbolism, or it may have been a special for the night, as a full moon was indeed rising in the east.
Distractions aside, this was a fine production beautifully sung.