By Patrick O’Brien
Recently, ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com opened its umbrella to other forms of theatre with a heavy music component. Makes sense, certainly. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, theatre without music is really only a recent anomaly. In that vein, it’s important as a reviewer to be able to see a living artifact of musical theatre’s origins.
So, to start such a journey, we start modestly, with an opera where only three people die.
But Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is known for two things: its Mad Scene—so well-known, it’s capitalized—and its point-of-no-return sextet. They are spectacular vocal showcases, of course, but to pull them off dramatically—or any melodramatic work, in general—is a tightrope walk. The whole enterprise— especially Lucia’s descent into madness, the shocking yet strangely logical conclusion to her wants being ignored in pursuit of political gain—must be credible yet captivating.
The central love triangle—especially Albina Shaginuratova in her Lyric debut as Lucia—is credible and captivating. The rest is credible.
The latter’s not a total knock. Paul Brown’s costumes are perfectly tailored for a Regency-era tragedy, and his irising flats, zooming in and out on the weathered Scottish highlands, make for artfully stark images. It all looks nice, but the movement (or lack thereof) makes it all feel rather inert, and not even the large moon wandering across the misty sky can quicken things.
Director Graham Vick has apparently done quite well with this production, having premiered it 20years ago, and, being fair, its simple staging makes it optimal for a company in want of something low-tech, like Lyric. (Lucia comes between their productions of Das Rheingold and Les Troyens, which are not low-tech.) Still, a little more physicality would’ve been nice. (But not that unfortunate swordfight, please.)
However, while Vick’s production may not have fancy footwork, it does keep itself grounded. If his actors aren’t going to move much, then his choice to recreate the political turmoil into which Sir Walter Scott placed his original novel’s characters will keep them still with tension. (It’s so political, the curtain wears family plaid.) It’s an ancient grudge, the specifics of which are lost to the haze of time, as ancient grudges go. But that tension is all too present in Act Two as the foppish rival Arturo (Jonathan Johnson) and the barely held-together Lucia sign their marriage contract, much to brother Enrico’s (Quinn Kelsey) delight and relief, and lover Edgardo’s (Piotr Beczala) spurned rage.
That’s what gives the ensuing sextet and subsequent scenes their drive: a solid dose of reality.
Of course, in opera, singing well helps, too. On that front, the production’s aces. Shaginuratova’s a soaring and crystal clear instrument, even as she spends most of the show in an uneasy draw between deep love and crushing obligation. And her Mad Scene, can’t forget her Mad Scene. She’s in complete control, even when she’s insane, covered in blood, and groping at men who aren’t there.
Beczala, meanwhile, is swoon-worthy as the man left out in the rain, torn apart by cruel Fate. (The best kind of Fate, for the record.) Kelsey is rich and smug. And Adrian Sampetrean makes a sympathetic impression as the caring but pragmatic chaplain Raimondo. Enrique Mazzola, also making his Lyric debut, conducts with confidence, creating a precisely uneasy sound.
All in all, a trip to the moors, just inside off Wacker Drive, might just be in order for this Halloween season. There may not be ghosts and ghouls haunting Lammermoor Castle, but the demons inside the mad bride—inside everyone—are definitely there.
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents “Lucia di Lammermoor” through November 6th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N Upper Wacker Drive. More information and tickets ($34-299) are available here.