It is not that I am in a disliking-mood – to start with, I have found Mary Zimmermann’s staging of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor silly and cheap-looking from the moment-one, when Natalie Dessay was the selling-feature of this production. It remains so – it is particularly annoying to have extra twenty minutes in the theatre due to problems in the change of such uninspiring sceneries. In any case, the reason for my second visit to this Lucia was Diana Damrau. I have to confess that it was rather the curiosity to see how she would deal with a role which is, on paper, unsuited to her voice.
Before I am thrown stones at, I rush to say that I like Damrau – I find her extraordinarily intelligent and creative, but I wish she could transcend this coloratura-label. Because she does dispatch some amazing fioriture, one tends to indulge the snags, particularly the alternately overmetallic and unfocused quality of her vocal production. In other words, this is a voice without the hallmark morbidezza an Italian soprano is supposed to have, especially in ingénue roles. As far as we are speaking of mezza voce, this German soprano is adept in producing effortless soft phrasing in every register, but the rest of her singing comes forth as rather harsh and unable to pierce through. Most of Regnava nel silenzio was a guessing game for the audience and, most inexplicably for a high soprano, she tended to be overshadowed by her partners in duets and ensembles and some of her in alts, true in pitch as they were, could be barely noticed. If I am blunt about this, it is only in the hope that such a serious artist be able to fix these minor but noticeable drawbacks before it is too late.
But let’s speak of the positive aspects in Damrau’s Lucia. First of all, even if Natalie Dessay pulled out a far more polished and coherent performance, I must say I could connect more to Damrau’s work, particularly because of its sincerity – somehow she embraced the character without any “added” attitude or underlying comment. I would say more – in spite of Dessay’s acknowledged talent for acting, I find the newcomer even more compelling in comparison.
When on stage, Damrau is not expertly repeating carefully throught-through and rehearsed routines, but very much “alive” there – reacting to the actual situation of being on stage in a way only experienced actors do. She also has excellent intuition for finding stage meanings for musical ideas and has personality and vivaciousness to make all that work. It is only a pity that she did not receive enough attention from a director – sometimes she would try too hard and spoil the effect of a good idea by overusing it or doing it in the wrong moment. It is the task of the director to review and correct this, what makes it doubly regrettable that such a skilled performer could not benefit from that.
The problem was particularly bothersome in the mad scene, without any shadow of doubt the highlight of the whole performance (as it should be). There, Damrau could go beyond the Romantic lyricism and let through just the necessary ounce of nastiness to transform something merely beautiful into something touching. But at moments when she should invest in some repose, to let the effect work, she would try something else or repeat a bit of what she had just done to semaphoric effects. From the musical point of view, the lighter orchestral accompaniment enabled her more comfort to play with tone colouring and also add a sense of story-telling through phrasing alone. Only in the very end, she could not avoid some hardness and shrillness, but by then she could twist the audience around her little finger.
Her Edgardo was tenor Piotr Beczala, whom I knew from healthy but rather unsubtle Mozart performances. At first, he is more at ease in bel canto repertoire. His voice is pleasant, light but compact. He has considerably elegant phrasing and is sensitive to the text. I can see a Nemorino there, but not much beyond that – Bellini would be too high for him, Rossini would be too fast and, although he has been singing Verdi, I find it heavy for his voice. In any case, Edgardo is a good fit for him – and, even in the closing scene (where the demands were a bit hard on him), he never showed himself other than in an elegant manner. He also interacted beautifully with Damrau in their act I duet and looked believably dangerous in the wedding scene.
In the role of Enrico, Vladimir Stoyanov displayed a velvety middle-size baritone that would work to perfection in a smaller house. At the Met, some of his high notes sounded a bit pale. As in his Leporello, Ildar Abdrazakov’s bass seems to be shorter on both ends this day. The timid low register was particularly problematic.
As for the musical direction, Marco Armiliato showed us the cliché of a Donizetti performance – lively tempi, unpolished phrasing, noisy ensembles and a general idea that the expressive aspects are the singers’ responsability.