A Lucia Made of Rust Belt Despair

Bloody bride, photo @ Marty Sohl

The first thing you need to know about Simon Stone's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor is that Stone absolutely respects the basic foundations of the opera. Yes, the action is moved from 17th century Scotland to a Rust Belt town in Midwestern America, but the basic story is unchanged. 

Set and video projections, Photo @ Jonathan Tichler

The second thing you need to know is that even if you're a conservative when it comes to modern/updated productions, this Lucia di Lammermoor is absolutely worth seeing because of the strong musical values. Nadine Sierra (Lucia), Javier Camarena (Edgardo), and Artur Ruciński (Enrico) all give excellent vocal performances based in classical, bel-canto values. The production might be modern, but the singing is old-fashioned. 

Lizzie Clachan's set is striking -- the revolving set shows a Rust Belt town is conveyed by a pawn shop, drive-in theater, drugstore, cheap motel, some dingy looking cars (Edgardo has a blue pickup truck), and a simple two-story house where Lucia and her brother Enrico live. Stone has a camera-man taking live footage of the action -- the video is then projected on a screen that is above the main stage. The videos were the major misfire of the production -- it seemed too derivative of Ivo van Hove and the video footage was bland and didn't add much to the storyline. In fact, they were surprisingly maudlin. We saw lots of closeups of Nadine Sierra and Javier Camarena kissing.

Casa Ashton, photo @ Jonathan Tichler
But otherwise, Stone's production makes the despair of the Ashtons palpable -- when Enrico sings about the financial ruin of the family, you believe it because the unemployment and opioid addictions that run rampant in Rust Belt towns.  When Edgardo escapes the town by joining the army, that too seems believable and relevant to contemporary society. When Lucia gulps methadone from a pharmacy, you understand what her life is like. 

There's a few weird things that don't work. Why is the drive-in cinema showing the 1947 classic My Favorite Brunette? Why does the Lammermoor house have no stairwells, and thus Lucia has to go "downstairs" from her bedroom by climbing out a window? If Lucia and Edgardo are messaging on Facebook, how did the letters Edgardo sent get "intercepted" by Enrico? During "Regnava nel silencio," who is the "ghost" in the video projections and what's her connection to Lucia? But overall, more things work in this production than don't work.

Camarena and Sierra, photo @ Marty Sohl
Nadine Sierra threw herself into the physicality of this production. Her Lucia is actually very conventional -- she's a sweet girl, without much hint of madness. It helps that she has a very winning stage presence, and also a voice that is warmer than most lyric-coloratura sopranos. Her vocalism follows the standard ornamentation and cadenzas. One quibble -- her trill is funny sounding -- for whatever reason, she can't really trill in tune but goes noticeably flat on each trill. Her acuti also can sound thin. But overall, an extremely well-sung Lucia. It was also Sierra's birthday and the cast sang "happy birthday" to her during curtain calls. So happy birthday!

Javier Camarena's Edgardo was sweet-voiced and sincere. Camarena's voice is a bit of an inverted triangle -- his upper register is free, ringing, and secure, while his middle register can occasionally sound a bit croony. But his legato, warm timbre, and sense of bel canto style were all on display. Camarena has good stamina -- his voice in the double aria of "Fra poco a me ricovero" and "Tu che a Dio" showed no signs of fatigue. His diction is superb. I could practically write down each pronounced syllable he sang.  Sierra and Camarena had good stage chemistry. More importantly, their voices blended beautifully in the duet "Verrano a te" and the sextet.

Artur Rucinski, photo @ Marty Sohl
Artur Ruciński (made up in menacing gang tattoos) gave maybe the strongest performance of the night as the villainous Enrico. He seemed to relish playing the bad guy, and his physical abuse of Lucia was genuinely scary. His voice is smooth and strong, with ringing high notes. The Wolf's Crag duet between Enrico and Edgardo was actually exciting instead of the placeholder before the two Big Scenes that everyone wants to see.

Matthew Rose (Raimondo) was disappointing -- his voice now sounds weak and hollow in the lower register. 

Riccardo Frizza's conducting was very routinier -- fast, but a bit shapeless, especially in the Mad Scene.

During intermissions I heard some lively opinions and debates about the production. Some people really loved it, others hated it. No matter what, you should see this Lucia in HD and judge for yourself.

Comments

  1. I liked it a lot, too, surprising myself! I thought there were too many scene changes, as we didn't need to see the 24-hour pharmacy and pawn shop several times. Little too much blood, and too many dead bridegrooms. The performances were excellent, and I agree about Camarena's diction, as I had noticed it myself. I didn't dig too deep about why she had to marry Arturo, as the overall premise of Enrico's being in trouble was never in doubt. Bravi!

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    Replies
    1. Camarena's diction is great. It reminded me almost of Pavarotti in how every syllable is so clear.

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  2. I heard the performance from a score desk and was amazed. i had seen it earlier and found the constant motion annoying

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  3. She snuck out the bathroom window because she didn't want her brother to know she was meeting her lover.

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  4. I loved all three principal singers. Sierra has a warm expressive voice and Camarena's beautiful timbre and exceptionally clear diction were impressive, and Rucinski was not only vocally great but his physical agility was surprising. However, I hated this production. HATED. The multiple screens and closeups were distracting and annoying; the stage picture was ugly; Bob Hope on the drive-in screen was inexplicable; and I don't think any of the updating added anything to the opera.

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