New Orleans Opera presents bel canto masterpiece _lowres

Photo provided by New Orleans Opera Association -- Laura Claycomb plays the unhappy bride in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.'

It was a gruesome spectacle that greeted guests on the night of a wedding in early 18th-century Scotland.

A bride stumbled down the steps of a castle in her blood-stained wedding dress, hallucinating in shock. A groom lay dead on the floor of their bedroom, stabbed with his own sword.

One of the most memorable scenes in the operatic repertoire, Lucy Ashton’s “Mad Scene,” will be played onstage this weekend as the New Orleans Opera Association presents Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 bel canto masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor,” which was loosely based on an actual incident, the three-act opera will be staged on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” is sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage. The story line revolves around two feuding Scottish clans, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods, and a romance between two members of those rival clans, Edgar (Edgardo) Ravenswood and Lucy (Lucia) Ashton.

Determined to break up the relationship, Lucia’s older brother, Henry (Enrico), the head of the Ashton family, forces her to marry the laird of another powerful clan, whom she murders on their wedding night; then she dies after descending into madness.

On learning of her demise, Edgardo takes his own life.

Making her New Orleans Opera debut as the title character, soprano Laura Claycomb brings a wealth of experience to the role. A Grammy Award winner in three classical music categories with the San Francisco Symphony, she has sung “Lucia” for the opera companies of Tel Aviv, Moscow, Pittsburgh, Houston and others.

She has also sung in some of the major opera houses of Europe, including Milan’s La Scala, Paris Opera, Berlin Staatsoper and more, as well as at Salzburg and other prestigious musical festivals. Her lengthy résumé includes other Donizetti compositions in the bel canto repertoire that she has performed.

“I love Donizetti most for his ensembles,” Claycomb said. “He really knew how to write these lines in such a way that each character is so highly delineated. They’re beautiful to sing.”

Singing opposite her, as Edgardo, is tenor William Burden who, she said, she has sung with on at least three other occasions. “I’ve known Bill as a friend even longer than I’ve known him as a colleague. I think that really adds something our relationship onstage because there’s a trust you can tap into.”

Claycomb also had praise for baritone Michael Chioldi (Enrico) whom she is working with for the first time.

“He is a fantastic colleague and is very open to trying new things and making me feel comfortable onstage,” she said. “He’s trying to make his character a bit more sympathetic so that you see where he’s coming from and you understand that circumstances put him in a position where he has to put me — Lucia — in a bad position.”

Claycomb stressed her coloratura (vocal ornamentation) skills. “I bring a lot of nuance and a lot of innovation: respect for the actual style which is not codified in tradition,” she explained. “The style of bel canto is so much about the personal take you will have on the music, both interpretively and color-wise.

Elaborating on the character of Lucia, Claycomb added, “She’s not just a wet noodle. Hopefully I will bring some kind of strength to her so that what you see is a headstrong Scottish lass who gets beaten down by circumstances and snaps in the end. This role fits me like a glove.”

The opera is accompanied by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Robert Lyall.