Gaetano Donizetti wrote some 70 plus operas. Only a handful survive in the repertory, and even then only due to one or two arias. “Lucia di Lammermoor,” however, the second of the summer’s Santa Fe Opera presentations, is clearly his best opera, a decided cut above all the others.
Several memorable arias along with one of the most famous mad scenes in all opera serve to bring the work back with a particular frequency.
The opera is based on the story from Sir Walter Scott’s novel “The Bride of Lammermoor.” In the film, “Where Eagles Dare,” the frumpy English spinster upon attending a performance exclaims, “Where’s the Walter Scott? That’s what I want to know, where’s the Walter Scott!?” Though she’s seen as an irritable bourgeois provincial, she actually has a point. While the story remains essentially the same as in the novel, it is clearly an Italian interpretation. The end of the opera is pure spaghetti.
This production centers around Brenda Rae] first seen here in 2013 in the title role of “La Traviata.” Rae as Lucia gives a very strong first act Regnava nel silenzio (Darkness and silence reigned), but it is her mad scene that makes this production. Amazing if not hypnotic, she both acts and sings this exceptionally difficult aria with a theatrical sense of insanity quite stunning in its depth of expression. Half-way through she earned the applause that went on for a good half-minute. Upon conclusion of the section the audience Saturday night showered her with vocal accolades. As is now more often the case than not, the mad scene included the glass harmonica intended by Donizetti to provide a otherworldly atmosphere. Often accompanied only by pizzicato strings, this ethereal-sounding instrument should never be left out of any production.
Zachary Nelson, Figaro in 2014’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” provides a strong Enrico Ashton, Lucia’s imperious brother. His bare-chested bedroom scene is a bit over the top for the character, but, hey … this is Santa Fe!
Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang portrays Edgardo, the Lord of Ravenswood and Lucia’s true love forbidden by her brother. An ardent partner for Rae, Chang’s bright tenor provides the necessary vocal color. If his third act Fra poco a me ricovero (Though long a neglected grave) — his lament over the death of Lucia — is a bit dry at the top, it is nonetheless full of passion as Edgardo decides to end his life. Thankfully, Chang never tries to over-sing, a problem frequently encountered in recent SFO seasons.
A veritable paternal presence, the chaplain (Christian Van Horn) marries Lucia to a man acceptable to her brother but whom she does not love. His rich bass-baritone helps to solidify every scene in which he appears.
Sets are highly stylized using projections and a criss-cross pattern backdrop sometimes almost dizzying in its effect.
The four dancers appearing in the wedding scene give thrilling acrobatic performances. Italy’s Corrado Rovaris conducts the work with style and passion, leading the always excellent SFO Orchestra.