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Lucia di Lammermoor at Seattle Opera

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It's been quite a weekend at Seattle Opera with the opening performances of "Lucia di Lammermoor" with two different principal casts. Both Lucias, Aleksandra Kurzak and Davinia Rodriguez made their debuts in the title role and Ms. Rodriguez made her American debut as well; the production is also the first Edgardo for William Burden, while Scott Piper sang the role in Cleveland for director Tomer Zvulun. If this is where Kurzak, Rodrigues, and Burden are starting, I can't even imagine what their performances will be like with a few more productions under their belts or even by the end of the run two weeks from now.

The pairings themselves were interesting, with vocal temperamental contrasts. There was more intensity in Kurzak's voice than Rodriguez', her moods had more swing, and her mad scene was truly mad. Kurzak once wanted to be a ballerina; ballerinas could learn a few things from Kurzak for their Giselles. While Burden's voice is one of the most beautiful I've heard live, he doesn't have the inherently big dramatic sound that Scott Piper, Rodriguez' Edgardo, does, and to create the drama he used a wider range of dynamics vocally and through his acting. Listening to and watching Piper, I kept thinking of Manrico. Kurzak had some spine-tingling trills and the full gamut of coloratura tools, and she took down the roof. Her technique was so solid that I could imagine waking her up in the middle of the night and asking her to sing high E, and she would do it. Her top notes, though, had a different quality than the rest of her voice, very laser-like. Rodriguez's sounded fuller and more integrated with the rest of her voice. She had a sweeter, lighter sound overall, but yet with plenty of emotion and sensuality, and that was in contrast to Piper's direct, dramatic, Italianate sound.

Both Enricos, Ljubomir Puskaric and Philip Cutlip had warm and open tops -- Puskaric's top was particularly beautiful -- but sounded weaker in the bottom of their ranges. I heard Cutlip sing Handel a few years ago in Dallas back in the Music Fair barn with horrific acoustics, and he sounded less agile today, but in the Handel his character was more wicked, while as Enrico he had a bigger dramatic challenge. It didn't help either that Enrico is about as unsympathetic a character as they come, and that's saying a lot for baritones: he's not smart enough to be charismatically evil, and there's neither bad-boy appeal nor room for much sympathy, even when he's worried that he's a dead man if Lucia's marriage to Arturo doesn't work out. It doesn't help that he seems somewhat contrite in the Sextet, but then his first reaction to the clearly mad Lucia is to attack her as a murderer.

It also didn't help that Arthur Woodley's Raimondo, the only other deep voice, nearly stole the show, his rich voice carrying clearly to the back of the house. Raimondo also gets sympathy points as a character, but then, for me at least, loses them again in the scene right after the mad scene, one that is usually cut, in which he blames the entire tragedy on Normanno as if Normanno were Iago. Not that I think Normanno a great guy -- he's the one who intercepts Lucia's letters to Edgardo and forges one that claims that Edgardo has fallen in love with a French woman -- but, please: whether he's seen as a snake or loyal to the family, he does Enrico's dirty work (that Enrico is too dumb to figure out) with Enrico's full blessing, and this whole mess happens because of Enrico's agenda. Raimondo, a member of the family, hypocritically blames the outsider and places none on his nephew, and that's after he convinces Lucia to marry Arturo.

The chorus was superb throughout and was instrumental in helping to make the Sextet through the end of the second act throat-grabbing.

Three former Seattle Opera Young Artists were in the production in smaller parts, and they all did very fine work: Lindsey Anderson as Alisa, Andrew Stenson as Arturo, and Eric Neuville as Normanno. Neuville sounded strongest from the Second Tier, and he was very impressive dramatically.

Tomer Zvulun's direction was wonderfully paced, and his ideas to use the ghost of Lucia throughout the opera were very effective, particularly when the singer who plays Lucia appears as the Ghost of Lucia in the final scene. I loved how Lucia slits each wrist and arm in the mad scene. Having Edgardo and Lucia meet during the short orchestral opening was a very fine touch and set up the drama from the outset. The one scene that didn't work was Edgardo's entrance just before the Sextet, in which he aims a pistol at Enrico and a good number of Enrico's family then pull their guns on Edgardo. It was too similar to the classic scene in the movies where someone pulls a gun, and then you hear "click" "click" "click" "click" "click", and suddenly the camera pans out, everyone's pointing guns at each other, and no one can move. The audience giggled in both performances at this scene, and I don't think that's what Zvulun intended. It was to the performers' great credit that they re-focused the scene through the emotional intensity of their singing. I would also lose the snow in the final scene. It looks beautiful, but I could only think of the tenors singing their hearts out with pieces of fake snow floating around, not to mention the amount of dust that must be stirred up as it drops.

The costumes were generally beautiful and avoided a parade of tartans. I particularly liked the dress Lucia wore for the marriage contract scene. I wish Edgardo's light blue-grey jacket were replaced, though: it looks off the rack, and each Edgardo looked like he'd lost 40 lbs. in his next costume. (The food in France couldn't have been that bad.) Thanks to Robert Wierzel's lighting design, the scenes with the ghosts were eerily effective. In the confrontation scene between Enrico and Lucia the lighting cast huge shadows, which made Enrico even more menacing.

"Lucia" is not among my favorite operas -- the last time I saw it was in the early '80's -- but if I were still living in Seattle, I'd see each cast again. Both were great nights at the theater.

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A silly aside -- October is "Arts Crush" month here (a local theater organization is promoting all kinds of extra performances from a huge number of groups) and several local companies have been offering introductory kinds of events for a general public. Seattle Opera's contribution is a workshop next weekend on how to make stage blood, and the photos they're using to promote it are all of Lucia. No word on whether your batch of blood will get used on stage, though.

(Alas, the workshop is already full, or I would be there mixing up the gore!)

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"Lucia" is not among my favorite operas -- the last time I saw it was in the early '80's

I like my Lucias macabres and crazy looking and in the appropriate XVII Century Scottish setting. Last season we had one Lucia here and the production went under that unnerving trend of changing its historical/psychological context and even the story itself changed a little bit. Only Elizabeth Caballero was able to save the day, but otherwise...a complete failure. :wallbash:

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Seattle Opera's contribution is a workshop next weekend on how to make stage blood, and the photos they're using to promote it are all of Lucia. No word on whether your batch of blood will get used on stage, though.

Very timely for Halloween season. :)

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Lucia's got nothing on the last scene of the Met Opera's "Boris Godunov", where the make-up department went wild with the beaten up boyars. They even did dried blood to indicate multiple beatings, and the slit throat affects were not for the faint of heart, especially with the camera up-close-and-personal.

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WOW......I saw this production last night. My guess is the cast did take it to the next level just as Helene suggested they might. The performance was positively electric and solicited a near instant standing ovation with nearly everyone in the audience standing and applauding wildly. The performances of Aleksandra Kurzak, William Burden, and Arthur Woodley were particularly stunning (and each recieved extra "bravos"). There is no question in my mind that a new, and destined to be famous, Lucia was born in this production (it is Kurzak's debut in the role). As Speight Jenkins said at the Q&A, we will soon see her booked all over the world in this role.

I just re-read Helene's review (I had read it a week ago the first time). I am struck, having now seen the production, how Helene hit every nail on the head (or at least I agree 100%).....even to the snow. Helene sees/hears opera like a laser......NYT critics watch out!

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Oh, I'm so happy to hear that William Burden and Scott Piper are doing well on the other coast! I heard them both at New York City Opera a few years ago (before all the tsoris) and really enjoyed their performances. One of the best reasons to go to NYCO is to catch singers like them on the way up (as well as excellent singers -- such as Lisa Saffer or David Walker -- who rarely if ever appear at the Met) and it's gratifying when their careers get some well-deserved traction.

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