An opera in three acts at the Teatro Real, Madrid
It is a dark night. Inside a crumbling Lammermoor Castle, are nobleman Enrico Ashton, Normanno (the captain of his guard) and Raimondo (the chaplain). Enrico’s mother has recently died. The family fortunes are dwindling as made evident from the state of the home and the chorus of creditors who are quite literally baying outside. The only way Enrico sees out is for his sister Lucia to marry the suitable (read: rich) Lord Arturo Bucklaw. An intruder is spotted on the castle grounds.
Lucia de Lammermoor is a tragedy by Gaetano Donizetti and based on the book The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott. This novel is in turn inspired by a story Scott heard from his own mother about an actual incident in the history of the Dalrymple and Rutherford families.
The intruder from the first scene turns out to be Edgardo di Ravenswood, arch political rival of the Ashton family. And of course, he is in love with Lucia. Like most Italian operatic dramas, there is enough masala in this to satisfy us all. Lucia and Edgardo secretly promise eternal love for each other and exchange rings before leaves for France to continue his political activities. In the meanwhile, Enrico, with the help of Normanno and Raimondo, scheme to convince Lucia to marry Arturo. Letters between the lovers are supressed and others are forged to prove that Edgardo is involved with someone else, not reachable, and has broken his promise to Lucia. She succumbs to the pressure. On the day before her wedding to Arturo, Edgardo returns. But it is too late, Lucia has already signed the marriage contract.
Ismael Jordi makes a dynamic Edgardo. He’s dashing and his tenor voice is lyrical, passionate and convincing. This is a role he knows well so well that the beautiful bel canto singing seems often effortless: a mark of excellence.
Simone Piazzola, our Enrico, has superb singing technique but is difficult to emotionally connect with. Even when he is full of rage, or later struck with remorse, he feels distant and unapproachable However, considering his on-stage character (cold and unable or unwilling to empathise with his sister) this emotional distance from the audience does make sense.
Marko Mimica’s rich bass is a treat to listen to. It’s so beautiful and melodic that Raimondo’s role in the opera, though significant seemed too short. Yijie Shi is a light tenor, his voice lilting and attractive, perfect for a flamboyant Arturo.
Venera Gimadieva as Lucia was the star of the show. She is a young woman in mourning, in love, distraught, and finally tortured. Circumstances have not been kind to her. Her mother has died. Her love seems impossible. Her brother is cold, dominating and manipulative. Who knows what she went through on her wedding night. Each aria is full of emotion. Her duets with Edgardo are romantic and passionate. Unlike Jordi’s easy bel canto, we can often hear Gimadieva put in the effort, and this makes her Lucia all the more lifelike. The famous ‘mad scene’ is brilliant. Her aria here – technically demanding and emotionally intense – is delivered impeccably.
David Alden, the opera director has drawn from the 19th-century fascination on mental illness to create the house of Ashton. His interpretation heightens this romantic tragedy to become almost a psychological drama. Enhancing his vision is the beautiful work by Charles Edwards, the stage designer. We are taken into an intense world – dark and gothic. Everything we see, including costumes of the protagonists and the villagers and noblemen who make the chorus, is in black-and-white. Lucia and Enrico are in mourning for their mother are understandably in black, but Edgardo’s kilt is dark too. Even on the day of the wedding, the guests are dressed in or a tone of grey or sepia.
The tragic drama of the story is enriched through this visual impact. When Enrico and Edgardo face off, it is a stormy night. We can hear thunder, the orchestra swells and adding to this is the only source of light – a lamp – hanging from the ceiling, swaying madly.
This world of black-and-white is broken only in the ‘mad scene’. Lucia, tortured and traumatised, murders her husband on her wedding night, and emerges drenched in blood. Her hair is unkempt, half her wedding dress is still white but the other side is stained bright red.
Daniel Oren, the musical director, creates the environment for all this to be possible. His high-energy conducting transmits to the orchestra. The sound is fresh and dynamic with no restraint on emotion, corresponding to the nature of the story and of course the written score too.
One of the joys of watching opera in the Teatro Real is the way in which the Madrid audience engages with the performance. You can feel the collective emotion of the house allowing themselves to be absorbed fully in the drama on stage not holding back even a little. Scenes were interspersed with merited applause and shouts of bravo, and at the end the excellent cast and directors were drawn out again and again for three well-deserved curtain calls.