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Lucia di Lammermoor: Preview

by on 9 October 2022

Italian Bagpipes??

Lucia di Lammermoor : Preview

Instant Opera at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington 14th – 16th October

Preview:       Opera critic Thomas Forsythe discusses the forthcoming production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Instant Opera’s Nicholas George

TF:     Hello Nick.  Scotland has been a momentously topical place over the past few weeks.  Donizetti’s opera about aristocratic families set in a Scottish stately-home, and running just a month after the mourning period for our late beloved Queen, seems almost like a tribute to Queen Elizabeth, whose last days were spent in just such a Scottish stately-home.   Clearly, it is fortuitously so, as I imagine you have been planning Lucia di Lammermoor for some considerable time.

NG:    Yes, hello Thomas, our production was originally planned for October 2020.  Pestilence, war, climate change, political and economic turmoil, have also all happened since, not that anyone needs reminding.  The tribulations of two ancient feuding Scottish families depicted in this melodrama seem almost sane in comparison!  But seriously, one of the unique and exciting things about this production is the way that we will enhance and celebrate the evocative performance space at Normansfield Theatre, in a way I guarantee never seen before in its history!

TF:     Queen Victoria was, of course, also a great lover of all things Scottish and I understand that you have brought forward the time period of Lucia into the Victorian era, contemporaneous with Donizetti’s own time rather than the late 1600’s of the novel by Sir Walter Scott, on which Donizetti’s librettist Salvadore Cammarano based the opera.  Didn’t Scotland become a less wild place in those two centuries? 

NG:    That is correct. Brought forward to 1837 to be exact. Interestingly, Cammarano’s wonderful libretto betrays a slightly shaky grasp of British Royal history, which is explained in our programme notes.  As the archetypal ‘gothic heroine’, our production of Lucia returns her to the era of her creative geniuses, both in novel and operatic form.  As for whether Scotland became a less wild place over time, then and since, I cannot say.  Perhaps we should await the results of the next referendum!

Valeria Perboni

TF:     I hear there is a new Stage Director for this production, Valeria Perboni from Mantova in Italy, whom you discovered at l’Arena di Verona.  That sounds very exciting.  What can you tell us about Valeria?

NG     Valeria is a real find and the circumstances of finding her a story you couldn’t make up.  She was originally a new member of our chorus, but there were clearly more strings to her performing arts bow than singing, including acting and directing.  She expressed an interest in assisting directing the opera and had an excellent knowledge of the piece.  The upshot was a memorable conversation that took place last summer in which I asked her if she’d like to step up and take over the reins as Stage Director for Lucia, to which she responded she’d love to but would need to finish directing Turandot at the Arena di Verona first which, as you say, I later went over to see.  The cast have really enjoyed working with her and I hope you’ll agree the results are were worth it, despite the somewhat smaller confines of Normansfield, compared to Verona!

TF:     Your cast is also a very international one.  You have clearly been finding exceptional singers, but does this present logistical problems for a small company?

NG:    One of the joys of Instant Opera is the phenomenal range of talent we’ve been able attract, as well as development opportunities we have provided for others in their careers.  This has increased with every project since we first brought opera to Normansfield in 2016. It can present the odd logistical challenge though as, not surprisingly, they zip around the world for concerts and auditions in and out the rehearsal process.  For Lucia we have brought to Teddington two fabulous casts that include artists from, India, China, Hong Kong, USA, El Salvador, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malta, Ireland, The Netherlands and, crucially, from both Russia and Ukraine – music brings people together. 

TF:     Donizetti famously, some would say infamously, scored part of the music for the so-called “Mad Scene” in Act III, Scene 2, for a glass harmonica.  Will you be using such an arcane instrument?

NG:     No, we’d have a job fitting one in around an already sizeable orchestra in Normansfield and have room left for the audience!  It is often performed without this instrument and only features briefly in the score.  It has been fascinating observing our Musical Direector Lewis Gaston rehearsing ‘the mad scene’ and the detail and care he went in to shaping it.  I believe we’ve succeeded in achieving the desired spooky effect.  It’s worth mentioning that there is also a beautiful harp solo in Lucia which is most definitely to be performed.  Talking ofrehearsing music, our orchestra and chorus were sounding and looking amazing at our first dress rehearsal yesterday evening, very necessary in this piece as they both play a starring role.

TF:     Lucia di Lammermoor is an archetypical bel-canto opera, with great opportunities for virtuosity in the singers, especially in the soprano cadenzas.  Arguably, the Mad Scene presents the best of these opportunities.  Can we expect some coloratura fireworks?

Camilla Jeppeson

NG:     You can!  The first essential consideration in staging Lucia di Lammermoor is finding virtuosic singers needed for the title role, they do not grow on trees!  We are thrilled to have found (and welcome back) two exceptional Lucias in Nicola Said and Camilla Jeppeson.  Then there is Edgardo, another singularly difficult role for tenor, for which we are fortunate to have Anando Mukerjee and Oswaldo Iraheta on board – our audiences are really in for a treat.

TF:     Post-Covid, we have heard some outstanding performers at Instant Opera, in the Grand Opera Gala at Richmond Theatre last year, and La bohème at Normansfield Theatre back in January.   Can we look forward to seeing familiar faces in Lucia di Lammermoor?

NG:    Yes.  We’re delighted to welcome back to Instant Opera, Franco Kong in the role of Enrico, Conall O’Neill as Raimondo and Joshua Baxter as Arturo.  We are also very excited to welcome artists making their debuts with us: Zofia Hanna and Aleksandra Kenenova in the role of Alisa, Peter Foster as Raimondo, and Jamie Formoy and Gary Rushton as Normanno.

TF:     Lucia runs on 14th, 15th and 16th October, but I notice there is a different cast for the middle performance on the Saturday.  We will see the same show from each cast?

NG:    Yes, but note Friday and Saturday shows start at 7:30 pm, but the Sunday performance starts earlier at 5 pm.  

TF:     An opera set in the wild moors in the Scottish lowlands in the sixteenth Century written by composer and librettist who were both Italian (and Donizetti takes a lot of liberties with Scottish history) does not a first seem a promising prospect.  We know that Lucia di Lammermoor is a magnificent work of art, but how do you sell the idea to the non-operagoer?   

NG:    I think you’ve just done it – wild moors, Scottish history, Italian genius in melodrama and lyricism, fantastic music you’ll want to listen to again and again, spooky gothic horror, not to mention incredible singing and playing … What’s not to love on an autumnal weekend in Teddington!

TF:     It sounds like we should get along to Normansfield Theatre in Teddington during the middle weekend of October for a real treat.  We look forward to a great opera, with top-notch actors and singers; plus marvellous music, all without bagpipes.   Nick, thank you for taking time from a busy pre-show schedule to tell us about Lucia di Lammermoor.

NG:    Thank you Thomas, and I promise definitely no bagpipes!

Thomas Forsythe, October 2022

Photography courtesy of Instant Opera

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