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Lucia di Lammermoor

by on 17 October 2022

Gothic Chills, Instant Thrills

Lucia di Lammermoor

by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, after Sir Walter Scott

Instant Opera at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington until 16th October

Review by Celia Bard

Quale trionfo!   Many congratulations to Nicholas George and his Instant Opera company for bringing together such an artistic, talented ensemble of international performers: singers (soloists and chorus); musicians; stage crew; musical and stage directors.  Although three hours in length, including interval and scene shifting times, so absorbing was the production that time passed as in the blink of an eye. 

The opera is based on the historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819, and tells the story of two ancient families feuding with each other.  Scott’s novel was set in the late 1600s, this production is set in Victorian times, which corresponds to the same period as the opera’s Italian composer, Gaetano Donizetti.  Instead of the family tribulations during the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, this interpretation concentrates more on the hypocrisies and rigid behaviours of Victorian Britain.  The politics of the original setting is somewhat lost but nevertheless it is a darkly, chilling interpretation, especially the final scenes.

Anando Mukerjee

Edgardo, Count of Ravenswood, performed by Anando Mukerjee, possesses the most glorious tenor voice; he is also a gifted actor.  He has a tremendous stage presence, acts with his eyes, and completely absorbed himself in the character of Edgardo.  In his first scene with Lucia, Act One he succeeds in conveying his conflict between a desire to avenge his father for the robbing of the family home and lands by the Ashton family, and the conflict caused by his love for Lucia, the sister of Lord Enrico Ashton, his sworn enemy.  His love for Lucia wins out and the act finishes on a note of hope, then dashed when he learns that Lucia is to marry Lord Arturo Bucklow.   His feelings of anguish and despair come through strongly in Act Three, Scene II when in the cemetery he sings of his wish to die in the forthcoming duel with Enrico, Tombe degl’avi miei; for he cannot stand the thought of Lucia delighting in the pleasures of her new husband.  Then, in the same scene, on learning of Lucia’s death, he is beside himself with grief.   He sings to Lucia that he will soon be with her in heaven, Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali.   Mukerjee as an opera singer is able to transport an audience through the highs and lows of his emotional turmoil.

Nicola Said

Likewise, Nicola Said, is flawless in the role of Lucia Ashton.  She too takes her audience on a roller coaster of emotions ranging from joy and happiness to the depths of pain, sorrow and despair.  She and Mukerjee are perfectly matched as the ‘star-crossed’ lovers.  Her voice is exquisite, singing with a silvery purity of tone and line.  She is breathtakingly accurate in her upper registers as observed throughout all her arias and duets and especially in her Ophelia-like mad scene, Act Three, Scene I when she sings Il dolce suono mi colpi di au voce.  Spellbinding is her ability to switch back and forth between joy and horror and hallucinating that Edgardo is there, present with her.  She again sees the ghost that in Act 1 foretold the bloody end of her romance with Edgardo.  After failing in her attempt to find the ring that Edgardo threw away when he found she had married Arturo, she sings that she will wait for Edgardo in heaven.  It is all too much for her and she falls to the ground, dying.  Said gives a performance that will stay long in this reviewer’s memory.

Enrico is performed by Nicholas George, who gives a fine performance as Lucia’s brother.  Through his singing and acting performance he is able to portray the cruelty of a man desperate to persuade Lucia to wed Arturo.  In his aria, Cruda, funesta smunia, from Act One Scene I, he vents his anger that Lucia has been secretly meeting with Edgardo and rails most effectively that she has betrayed him. 

Arturo, played by Joshua Baxter, is an interesting role.  In many ways Arturo is the innocent scapegoat.  He appears to have a genuine affection for Lucia, which leads to his downfall.  Unaware of the pressure that Lucia has been subjected to, he enters quite happily into the marriage contract, promising to restore the fortunes of the Ashton family.  Although a small role, Baxter with his fine tenor voice, is most believable.  The audience is left to wonder what actually went on in the bedroom scene that causes Lucia to go mad and kill Arturo.

Another pleasing performance is that provided by Conall O’Neill in the role of Raimondo Bidemont, the chaplain.  He has a superb bass voice, and his vocal register is wide.   Raimondo is torn in his loyalties between brother and sister, wanting to support Enrico in his desire to return the family to good fortune, but he also understands the strain that Lucia is under, though he does nothing to alleviate her sufferings.  In this sense he is as guilty as Normanno, captain of the guard, played convincingly by Jamie Formoy, who actively and callously carries out Enrico’s commands, intercepting and destroying letters written by Edgardo to Lucia.  In fact, all the smaller roles including Alisia, Lucia’s governess, performed by Zofia Hannah, are all vividly characterised.  Not forgetting the Ghost of Ravenswood, played by Arina Koroletska.  A non-singing, non-speaking ghost, but nevertheless an essential feature of this gothic melodrama, and she flits in and out of her couple of scenes admirably ghost-like.

Stage direction, as visualised by the stage director, Valeria Perboni, is well considered.  Scenes flow smoothly from one to the next and the stage although small, never seems over-crowded except when the intention is clear.  The groupings are excellent, namely the wedding scene and the use of the chorus on the staircase.  The final tableau in extremely effective and communicates the thought that the responsibility for Lucia’s death is communal, including her brother, chaplain, governess, Normanno.  All of them have blood on their hands. 

Musically, this opera is exceptionally strong, and the choral singing is tremendous.  What was so very pleasing about the chorus is that each member had a strongly defined character.  Lewis Gaston conducted with great skill, communicating sensitively with all members of the orchestra and singers.  The timing was impeccable, slowly heightening the tension as the evening progressed.  Very good use was made of lighting.  Particularly effective were those scenes suddenly bathed in blackness except for Lucia who, lit by a spotlight, was able to ratchet up the intensity of her performance. 

My one very slight niggle about the interpretation of this story from the original relates to transferring the time period thus creating an irritating weakness e.g. the notions of duels and the use of daggers in the 1830s and the historical reference to France really does not make sense.  But this is nit-picking and in no way detracts from the enjoyment and professionalism of this production.  Quite deservedly it received rapturous applause throughout the acts and at the end of the performance.

Celia Bard, October 2022

Photography by Robert Piwko and Jon Lo Photography

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    Gothic Chills, Instant Thrills — Oh Keith! Ax

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