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DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor

DVD Button Damrau; Castronovo, Tézier, Youn; Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Oren. Production: Mitchell. Warner Classics 0190295792053 (DVD) / 0190295792022 (Blu-ray), 150 mins. (opera), 9 mins. (bonus), subtitled

Recordings Lucia di Lammermoor Onstage hdl 318
Bloody good: Damrau and Castronovo at Covent Garden
© ROH/Stephen Cummiskey
Recordings Lucia di Lammermoor Cover 318
Critics Choice Button 1015 

EMPOWERED, ever-presentwomenmake this 2016 Katie Mitchell Royal Opera production a fitting Lucia di Lammermoor for our time. Diana Damrau’s Lucia and Rachael Lloyd’s Alisa, who disguise themselves as men to escape the Lammermoor castle, are resourceful fighters against victimization by Lucia’s brother and his henchmen. Present too, perhaps too often, are the ghosts of Lucia’s mother (Sarah Northgraves) and the girl (Sacha Plaige) murdered by her Ravenswood lover. Mitchell said that her Lucia was “all about the women.” But the men too are trapped and stressed, and it shows on their faces and in their body language, from Enrico (Ludovic Tézier) down to the mute servants.

We see how far the women and the men will go, because Vicki Mortimer’s split sets allow Mitchell to flesh out the drama with explicit action that is usually offstage or imagined. There is split-set counterpoint when Enrico bursts into Edgardo’s Wolf’s Crag room and Arturo enters Lucia’s bedroom, each unwelcome, and the lyrics take on double meaning.  

The Royal Opera warned audiences about the staging’s simulated sex, morning sickness, murder, miscarriage and double suicide. On video, it plays as intense music drama, and the applause and bravos seem intrusive. Donizetti isn’t Wagner, but his strict rhythms, chords and cadences come to represent the restrictive world in which the characters are caught, while the eerie, freer music of harp in one scene and glass harmonica in another suggests the dream world for which Lucia longs.

Here, she is a grown, knowing woman in a nineteenth-century setting who takes charge of all she can, plans Arturo’s murder and seems less “mad” than resolutely romantic. Damrau’s singing is at its most beautiful when it is soft and inward, especially at the fountain and with the glass harmonica. She trills well. She attacks intensely in conflict with Enrico. The unwritten, traditional high Ds are full-voiced and opulent, the pre-collapse E-flats aptly focused and white. A fine actress, she holds her own with the riveting Lloyd, whose Alisa will do anything for Lucia and suffers as deeply.

Charles Castronovo looks ideal as Edgardo, the swarthy outsider and forbidden lover, and has a darkly romantic tenor to match. Tézier is a powerful Enrico, and Kwangchul Youn is a strong Raimondo. All three leading men sing with exemplary legato. Bright-voiced Taylor Stayton is an alert, acutely uncomfortable Arturo. Peter Hoare is a standard Normanno. The chorus sings well. Conductor Daniel Oren’s slow tempos and lack of fire are the only real drawbacks.

Some will find this Lucia too bloody or too busy. For me, it goes beyond even Callas and Sutherland recordings, studio and live, in bringing Lucia to dramatic life. —Mark Mandel 

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