Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lucia Hosts Her Own Super Perigee at the MET Matinee

Moon over Ravenswood
(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Yesterday a phenomenon occurred in the evening skies that only comes around once every 18 years: a super perigee. The moon is at its closet point to the earth during its nocturnal orbit giving it an appearance of 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. But that moon also appeared in Act III of the Metropolitan Opera's matinee performance of Lucia di Lammermoor featuring Natalie Dessay in the title role. The 2007 production, which first premiered with Dessay before hosting Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko as the mad Scottish lass, is pleasantly surprising in its mid-19th-century updating. A few particulars jumped out of yesterday's performance that shed new light on Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece that many compare to early Verdi. Is it possible in addition to Lucia suffering from traumatic grief and the constant longing for her recently deceased mother, as well as other apparitions of persons she didn't know personally, that she is also the victim of some sort of incestuous abuse? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that she is emotionally constricted due to an inappropriate, and most-likely non-consensual, relationship with her brother. Two glaring points in the libretto suggest something along these lines when in Act I Enrico refers to the situation of Lucia's secret meetings as if he is a jealous lover and in Act III once the stabbing has occurred she begins talking directly to her brother as if he were Edgardo. And certainly this sort of trauma would make her fall in love with Enrico's sworn enemy and would most definitely drive an enraged woman to murder. It's clear her brother has a strong hold over her that goes beyond sibling duty when he demands she marry Arturo in order to save his reputation and fortune. Ludovic Tézier, playing the role of Enrico, definitely upped the smarmy factor on this character, while managing to sing so well you couldn't resist him.

Other musical moments that really stood out during the performance included Deborah Hoffman's exquisite harp playing for the introduction to Act I, Scene ii with Lucia and Alisa at the fountain directly precluding "Regnava nel silenzio." It not only felt like time had stopped during her playing but that this music seemed eerily modern. Thanks should be given to conductor Patrick Summers for allowing this fine artist to make real music out of this stoic moment. Theodora Hanslowe as Alisa was outstanding in sound and appearance. Another standout performance came from the pivotal, albeit brief, role of Arturo played here by tenor Matthew Plenk. Not only did he look like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel, he sang with the ardent and penetrating tone one wants to hear from a lover like Edgardo rather than the passive bridegroom-to-be.

Actress/Model Lily Cole represents
an ideal image of Lucy Ashton
Natalie Dessay has always presented an interesting dilemma for the opera fan. She has a magnificent instrument and immense stage acting abilities, but she tends to overly use glottal attacks and jarring sforzandi. Her voice also lies somewhere between a Lily Pons and Edita Gruberova type of coloratura, but it seems as though she desires something more along the lines of Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas type of sound. Her portrayal is most affecting without going completely melodramatic in the mad scene. The most touching moment of her performance comes when she sings an unaccompanied section of cadenzas during the mad scene. Originally intended to be sung with glass harmonica and later with two flutes, it seems as though the Metropolitan Opera was not willing to grant a request by the singer for the former so she opted to sing it a capella which Ms. Dessay feels, rightly so, that it makes the character seem even more fragile. 
Watch a demonstration of the glass harmonica that did accompany Natalie Dessay's mad scene at the Mariinsky Gala in Russia. There were only two or three moments where the singer's voice faltered due to lack of air flow or vibration of the vocal folds, otherwise it was an excellent performance. And one cosmetic side note about the wig: there is extra layer of exoticism when the title role of Lucia is played as a ravishing redhead, which is not the case in this production. [Source]

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