|Lucia di Lammermoor | Opera Australia|
|Written by Eliza Eggler|
|Tuesday, 23 October 2012 16:04|
Last Thursday's performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Sydney Opera House belonged well and truly to the show's outstanding leading-lady - Emma Matthews. With a voice the colour of honey and perfectly even from top to bottom, this diva wowed her audience with a portrayal of the tragic heroine that was completely convincing and thoroughly moving. At the start of the famous third act 'mad scene', you could have heard the proverbial pin drop - so poignant was the atmosphere created by Matthew's voice and characterization of the mad Lucia. And although it's a shame that Sydney Opera House and Opera Australia rarely see a standing ovation these days, I am pleased to say that this was not the case last Thursday evening.
The production was set against a back drop of grey storm clouds that did little to please the eye but which well reflected the sombre mood of the action and created a sense of foreboding and doom. Props were kept to a minimum and the apparent lack of colour used in costuming and lighting (apart of course from the bright red of Lucia's blood soaked night gown in the Act 3 mad scene) added to the overall gloominess. The overture, heralding the opera's beginning, began with what sounded like a funeral march and as the curtain went up, the stage was bare apart from a lone figure.
The opera tells the story of a feud between the Scottish families Ravenswood and Lammermoor and the subsequent non-allowance of Lucia (by her brother Enrico) to marry Edgardo (James Valenti), the man she loves. Instead, she is forced into a marriage of convenience with Arturo (Andrew Brunsdon) who pledges to restore the family's prestige. As a result, Lucia loses her mind, kills the man she has been forced to marry and dies from inconsolable grief (and in true operatic fashion, her beloved also kills himself at the end of the opera). Overseeing and co-ordinating the events that lead to the protagonists' death are Lucia's brother Enrico (Giorgio Caoduro) and the minister Raimondo (Richard Anderson).
The quality of the singing was mixed and it is a shame that moments of excellence in singing and acting were let down by others bordering on ordinary. After the first act had ended, I feared that I was in for a very lack-luster evening because the singing, although competent and at times beautiful, was far from exciting (and isn't it great singing we want to hear at the opera!) By the end of act two, things had improved considerably with a solid performance of the sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento and I was eagerly anticipating the start of the next act. By the end of the third, soprano Emma Matthews had well and truly saved the day with her poignant voice and completely convincing 'mad' acting.
American tenor James Valenti, who sang the role of Edgardo, gave a convincing portrayal of this character with his rich tenor voice and pleasing stage presence. He sounded a little uncomfortable in the first act though, as if the part were too high for him, but soon overcame this and did some wonderful singing in the second and third acts. Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro (Enrico) sang his role with a rich, warm and pleasingly stable tone. With convincing acting he managed to create a strong and not altogether unlikeable persona in spite of his character's selfish behaviour; and with a voice large enough to be easily heard over the orchestra his assured technique was a joy to hear.
Bass Richard Anderson's portrayal of the minister Raimondo was competent and musical although not exciting. This may be due to his age - given that he is still relatively 'young' for a bass - and hopefully with maturity and experience his voice will develop the warmth and projection required for this role. Andrew Brunsdon was not a good choice as Arturo given that the role was clearly too high for him.
The chorus was as always well prepared by chorus master Michael Black and provided an interesting backdrop to the drama. Well camouflaged in drably-coloured attire, the ensemble provided musical interest and variety between the solo arias and duets, trios and sextet vocal combinations. Although they sang competently and pleasingly, the massed voices did seem to lack depth and volume in sound quality at times - this could be due to the increasing absence of more mature voices in the make-up of this opera-chorus.
Lucia is an opera full of beautiful melodies that require the best singing to do them justice. This production is visually sombre and will not divert your attention with amazing sets, costumes and lighting - its foundation is the quality (or lack of quality) of the singing. Opera Australia's current production will give you beautiful melodies and sometimes but not always give you great singing. And, most importantly of all, it will give you a chance of enjoying the skills of one of the country's best operatic performers: Emma Matthews as Lucia is a star, a savior of this production and fully deserving of every standing ovation she gets.
Opera Australia presents
Lucia di Lammermoor
Director John Doyle
Venue: Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: Sept 28, Oct 3, 6, 9, 11, 18, 24, Nov 2, 2012
Matinee: Oct 27, 2012
Tickets: from $105
Bookings: (02) 9318 8200 | www.opera-australia.org.au
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
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