Scotland, with its frequently dreary climate and its cold, foreboding castles, is a tailor-made locale for tales of conspiracies, jealous rivalries and nighttime murders. Macbeth and Mary, Queen of Scots are just two examples that come readily to mind.
Place the sad story of “Lucia di Lammermoor” in that setting, and you have all the elements of a tragic opera.
Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 bel canto masterpiece was admirably performed by the New Orleans Opera Association on Friday night in the dark and foreboding spirit the composer intended. A repeat performance is set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The low, ominous opening notes of the overture hint at what’s to come. Lucia, a young woman from a prominent Scottish family whose fortunes are rapidly declining, is forced by her older brother, Enrico, into an arranged marriage with Arturo, the laird of a more powerful clan — even though she has pledged fidelity to her true love, Edgardo, the last survivor of a family defeated by her own. (The names are the Italian equivalents of Sir Walter Scott’s originals.)
Lucia unwillingly goes through with the marriage to Arturo, but on her wedding night, she murders the groom, then descends into madness and death. Her lover, on learning of her fate, takes his own life.
Soprano Laura Claycomb, in the title role, furnished everything the role called for. She proved equally adept at conveying pathos, stubbornness and — especially — insanity in the memorable “Mad Scene,” and the clarity of her coloratura singing shone prominently throughout the evening.
Lucia’s Act I-ending duet with Edgardo (William Burden), “Qui di sposa eterna,” and her long, skillfully drawn-out “Mad Scene” aria are two of the opera’s most memorable highlights.
Burden, in the traditional role of the heroic tenor, has his own moments to shine, especially “Tombe degli avi miei,” his mournful tribute to his deceased ancestors in the family graveyard in the opera’s closing scene.
One could not help feeling a lump in the throat as he lamented the loss of both his kinfolk and his beloved, while vocalizing his own death wish.
As Enrico, Michael Chioldi fit perfectly into the role of a man who becomes a villain not out of choice but from necessity. However, he seemed unduly restrained in confronting Edgardo when Lucia’s jilted lover burst unexpectedly into the hall during her wedding preparations. Perhaps, though, this is the fault of the librettist as much as of the singer himself.
In that same scene, a dramatic golden opportunity was missed when Edgardo failed to throw down the ring Lucia had given him at the end of Act I. It isn’t specifically called for in the libretto, but it is an added touch that directors have traditionally inserted to heighten the tension as Act II comes to a close.
Notable in the supporting roles were tenor Casey Candebat as Normanno, captain of the castle guard; mezzo-soprano Lisa LeFleur as Alisa, Lucia’s best friend; and bass Jordan Bisch as Raimondo Bidebent, who counsels both Enrico and Lucia and is the first one to announce Arturo’s murder and Lucia’s madness. Tyler Smith, as Arturo, made the most of his limited opportunities with his usual strong, ringing tenor.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra was smoothly conducted by Robert Lyall, never overpowering the singers yet still conveying the appropriate mood for each scene. Rachel Van Voorhees’ harp solo prior to the start of Act II was serenely beautiful.