Friday, 5 June 2009

A Night at the Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

THURSDAY EVENING brought a stunning crowd to the Place des Arts; not only was it the final opportunity to see the Opéra de Montréal's presentation of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, but it was also possible to view the opera for free sous les etoiles on a large screen set up just beside Rue Sainte-Catherine. I myself had tickets for the top balcony of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, which, I must say, is rather far-removed from the stage, but I found the performance quite intriguing and well-orchestrated even from a distance.

The story-line of this 1835 dramma tragico presents us with a Romeo-and-Juliet-style dilemma set in Scotland and based on Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor. The opera itself, of course, is pure Italian bel canto, and if it were not for the occasional mention of Scotland, costumes, and the stone columns and archways of the sets in this particular production (which were fairly simple, but effective and nicely traditional), it would be most difficult to place Donizetti's opera anywhere other than Italy. The passions and tempers of Lucia and Edgardo run high, culminating in promises of eternal love, murder, madness, and suicide-- which are some of the staples of tragic operas, I realize, except that whereas the German opera is an opera of ideas and ideals, the Italian opera is an opera of people. German operas often attempt to offer philosophical explanations and conclusions, even in the midst of a profoundly moving whirlwind of music and action; Italian operas seem far more concerned with lovely singing and the flux of human emotions, the depiction of life in its joys, desires, tragedies, and even horrors.

In fact, Lucia di Lammermoor is perhaps best-known for Lucia's scene of madness in the third act, which is, odd as it seems to say it, quite possibly the most aesthetically pleasing musical depiction of insanity which has ever reached my ears. Of course, my perception of this scene, and indeed the entire opera, was all the better for having heard Cuban singer Eglise Gutierrez perform the role of Lucia. Her voice can haunt or warble, disturb or uplift-- or sometimes do all four at once. Vibrato could be heard occasionally in her voice, but it was skillfully used and extremely subtle, and therefore added further nuance to her performance. Stephen Costello was convincing enough as Edgardo, but I was far more impressed with baritone Etienne Dupuis as Lucia's manipulative brother Enrico.

At any rate, I was surprised to see how quickly the concert hall emptied after the standing ovation. I believe I would have liked to see roses tossed dramatically at the stage, or perhaps a bouquet handed to Gutierrez, but the bows were carried out sans flowers. I walked among the empty red seats of the concert hall, down the stairs, and into the streets of Montréal. . .

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