Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) Gaetano Donizetti, libretto Salvatore Cammarano after Walter Scott. Directed by David Alden, conducted by Stephen Lord. Seen at the Canadian Opera Company on April 20, 2013.
This is probably the creepiest Lucia around – and in the best cinematic way possible, with every ‘frame’ having a place in the buildup of unease and suspense.
The era is moved to Victorian. The most important relationship is the one between Lucia (Anna Christy) and her brother Enrico (Brian Mulligan). Lucia has been – it becomes very obvious by Act II – continuously sexually molested by Enrico and he wants that practise to continue. She can’t obviously have any love interests herself. The storyline about the tribal loyalties fades to the background, and the reason why Enrico wants her to marry Arturo (Nathaniel Peake) is not so much to turn the family fortune around but primarily because she does not love him, therefore, can remain his brother’s. Enrico is not the only man who gropes Lucia at every opportunity – we see some other male characters doing the same and there is an understanding that she is a wind-up doll that belongs to all of them and has no will of her own. Christy acts all this really well and appears to be in a daze all the time, not entirely sure why things are happening but doing her best to go along.
What eloquently tells us that the family has seen better days are the interiors of the house (the sets are by Charles Edwards). Plaster is peeling off, and the doors and trims ridden with patches of dirt that nobody can be bothered to clean. An important role is given to the space that looks like it might have been a private theatre stage once, something that maybe Lucia used for play in happier days. It’s very well employed in the Mad Scene: half-way through Lucia’s raving, the curtain on it opens and the dead Arturo appears seated against the wall, his bridegroom whites covered in blood. Lucia returns to him by lying down and under his arm.
Photographs of the ancestors are also important in many scenes, and for the wedding in Act III they come out in full force and cover every bit of every wall. (Many of the older men, accidentally, look like Sir John A MacDonald.) When not on that small stage, Lucia is either on a bed, or on a dining table, so: always exposed, always a spectacle, her lack of freedom brutally obvious.
The singing and acting among the principals was uniformly good, but Brian Mulligan as Enrico gets extra points for acting. With a caricature Enrico this would not have worked, but Mulligan’s Enrico is always creepy the right way, never straightforwardly evil and with just enough of mixed motives in evidence to keep us trying to figure him out. Stephen Costello’s Edgardo was appropriately emo and flustered, and musically, in contrast, produced consistently sweet tenor tone throughout, especially in the final scene. Christy’s voice has the young, bell-like timbre which fits perfectly for the role, and so does her physique: unlike many other Lucias, she actually looks like a teenager. Her embellishments were refreshingly different (not sure if they’re prepared in advance with the conductor, or ad libbed on the spot).
The glass armonica made all the difference in the Mad Scene, and kudos to the COC for going out of their way to get one. The sound that thing produces is otherworldly.
PS: Check over here for a Lucia for Beginners that I did for Xtra.
Photos by Chris Hutcheson. Top: Anna Christy as Lucia and Brian Mulligan as Enrico in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor, 2013. Bottom photo: A group scene from the same production.