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 Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor


Santa Fe Opera, U.S.,  July 1 - August  24, 2017


Production photographs by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.


The Santa Fe Opera house


The following is based on a report by Charles Jernigan who saw the opera on August 16.

Santa Fe Opera is probably the most spectacular venue for opera-going in America.  Whatever possessed John Crosby to build an opera house and start a company 61 years ago in the enchanted hills of northern New Mexico, far from any metropolitan or cultural center of note, it was an act of genius.  Today the still small town is defined by arts and crafts, great cuisine, a chamber music festival and of course the opera.  How striking it is to drive south through some of the wildest and most isolated high desert country in America and suddenly see an exit from the highway for "Opera Drive.”  The very incongruity is as shattering as the wonderful sunsets each night as the maestro raises his baton.  The opera house itself, seating 2,128 patrons and over a hundred standees, is open on the sides and at the rear of the stage, bringing the natural setting into the theater, sunsets and occasionally the errant thunderstorm.  

I did not see the runaway hit of this sixty-first season, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates, probably the most successful world premiere in the history of the company; they had to add an extra performance to accommodate the crowds flocking to see flashing iphones and hear electronica, guitar music and Buddhist temple bells.  My own visit this summer began with Donizetti's grand old score, Lucia di Lammermoor.  It proved to be an evening of some very fine singing and a remarkably dull and old fashioned production.

The design was by Riccardo Hernandez with subdued lighting by Christopher Akerlind and dark and monochrome costumes by Emily Rebholz.  The result was a set that consisted of a coffered ceiling design projected on all of the walls, which moved here and there to make different scenes, and varied in fifty shades of gray.  The dull costumes offered hooped skirts for the women which seemed to set the production around 1865. To make matters worse the director, Ron Daniels, opted for 1950’s-era stage direction.   The default stage direction had singers or the chorus come forward, face the audience, and sing with little interaction in many scenes.  Lucia's Mad Scene did offer drama, but it went histrionically over the top.  By the time we got to the tenor's final aria, "Fra poco a me ricovero," there was no pretense of action or drama; he came stage forward, planted his feet and sang (prettily); the chorus, which interacts with him in the libretto was arrayed at the top of the set-walls and was not even onstage with him. Lucia herself was played as a weak-willed, rather silly ingénue, constantly battered by the male forces around her.  No hint of the strong woman who defied her family's wishes and "married" her lover, their bitter enemy, in a forest ceremony, far outside the social and religious norms of her time and place.  Daniels also played the ghost card.  Not only did the ghost in the fountain in Scene 2 literally rise through a trap into a clear plastic fish-tank fountain, but Lucia’s own ghost, once again rising through a trap at the end of the opera, beckons to poor Edgardo from beyond the grave. 

The conductor, Corrado Rovarris,  rushed through the proceedings like the engineer of a late train trying to make up time, or a conductor wanting to get this slightly dull affair over so he could make it to a local restaurant.  The music had little time to breathe, a necessity in a lyrical, bel canto work like Lucia. However, on the positive side, he did give us a complete account of the score with almost all the cabaletta repeats, the Wolf’s Crag Scene and even the recitative following the Mad Scene in which Raimondo puts the blame on Normanno.  Intriguingly, he included a “verrophone.”  This modern instrument, invented in 1983, imitates the sound of a glass harmonica and replaces the flute in the Mad Scene, giving the kind of eerie sound that Donizetti originally wanted at a volume able to carry in the large venue.

The singers were also very much a plus.  There was superb singing from Brenda Rae (Lucia) and Mario Chang (Edgardo).  Good high notes and spot-on coloratura with big, full, rounded voices for both.  Rae's facial structure resembles Joan Sutherland, and, to a certain point, her voice does too.  The soprano from Appleton, Wisconsin, has been associated with the Frankfurt Opera since 2008 as was the tenor, who originally hailed from Guatemala.  Zachery Nelson’s Enrico offered rather more than good singing  appearing first as he threw off the duvet on his bed  naked from the waist up, showing off his fine, muscular torso and sending a lot of female (and male) hearts in the audience a-twitter.

I have seen many Lucia’s over the years, good, bad and indifferent.  This one seemed to take us back to a time when the only excuse for staging a bel canto opera was as a display piece for a prima donna.  You certainly need a very fine singer for the role of Lucia and you can’t have routiniers in the other roles either, especially Edgardo.  However if there is one thing we have learned, beginning with the riveting performances of Maria Callas in the 1950’s, is that this kind of opera can be far more than a vocal display: it can be shattering drama.  Santa Fe’s production this summer succeeded on the level of mostly glorious song-fest, but it failed as serious drama.



The Team 

Lucia - Brenda Rae

Edgardo - Mario Chang

Enrico - Zachary Nelson

Raimondo - Christian Van Horn

Alisa - Sarah Coit

Arturo - Carlos Santelli

Normanno - Stephen Martin


Conductor - Corrado Rovaris

Director - Ron Daniels

Sets - Riccardo Hernandez

Costumes - Emily Rebholz

Lighting - Christopher Akerlind



 ©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Enrico and followers






 ©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Enrico and Raimondo






©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Lucia at the "fountain" 






 ©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Lucia and Enrico






©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Edgardo and Lucia at her wedding ceremony 







 ©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera


Edgardo, Lucia and chorus at her wedding ceremony







©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

Raimondo and chorus in the mad scene







©Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera





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