When I say that one should not even bother to stage Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor if one has not a brilliant soprano for the title role, I do not mean that everything else in a staging of that opera is irrelevant. For a long while, it has been considered a tenor vehicle, for example. The problem is that the whole dramatic and musical impact of this very particular work depends on how touching the main character appears to the eyes and ears of the audience. If you do not care about her, it is all about a very silly girl in a very high tessitura. And you will only care about her, if she is not fighting with what she has to sing.
The cancellationfest still goes on in Berlin. Diana Damrau was supposed to be the Bride of the Lammermoor – and I confess I was not really excited about that. Although she is an excellent actress and an intelligent musician, her morbidezza-less soprano is entirely unfit for the Italian repertoire. My recollection of her Lucia at the Met was frankly disappointing in all accounts, but for her ease with runs and staccato effects. Therefore, the announcement of her replacement by Eglise Gutiérrez placed an extra interest in the performance. I had seen Gutiérrez back in 2005 as Lakmé in the Carnegie Hall, where she gave a lovely and technically adept performance. It makes me particularly sad to report that these five years have not been kind to her voice: her vowels have become excessively covered, the tone lacks brightness overall, her mezza voce is breathy, her high register is a bit effortful and her in alts are quite fragile if mostly true in pitch. Her coloratura has also lost its agility and, if she gathered her resources to a minimally decent Mad Scene, many fioriture were given the rittardando treatment. This disfigured the music’s flow and made many passages void of pathos. Although she cuts a quite romantic figure on stage, her basic acting toolkit has no “mentally fragile virgin”-option.
The Lammermoor family seemed doomed to inaudibility this evening – baritone Vladimir Stoyanov, whom I have seen under a very positive light in the Staatsoper’s Macbeth last year, could not focus his voice and pierce through into the auditorium. Hyung-Wook Lee’s Raimondo seemed more interesting in size and tonal quality, but he would gradually loose steam to the point in which things went really badly in his last contributions. If you wondered what Alisa actually sings during the sextett, this was your Lucia – Katherine Tier’s mezzo was quite hearable throughout.
In these circumstances, although Roberto Alagna’s tenor now sounds quite juiceless, it most definitely sounds in the theatre, what had a very soothing effect in an audience who had to struggle to follow the other main soloist’s lines. His usual lachrymose interpretative style has become quite vulgar, but again it was a relief to hear one singer who had operating space to interpret at all.
Stefano Ranzani’s contribution to the performance as a conductor limited itself to the traffic cop activity. In his defence, one must always point out that he had to keep orchestra down during the whole performance and there was very little to hear from the pit. Since his soloists were quite free about note values, he had to concentrate on following them rather than on establishing a musical interpretation. The edition here adopted was also heavily cut – no Lucia/Raimondo scene, no Enrico/Edgardo scene, not to mention internal trimming to make Lucia’s part easier.
When it comes to the unearthing of Filippo Sanjust’s old production, I was tempted to use the word “amateurish”, but Etymology shows us that it comes from the word “love” – and whoever is responsible for that dreadful staging has no love for his or her work.