Lucia di Lammermoor, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2010

This David Alden production for the ENO, originally staged in 2008, has a clarity that allows a striking distinction between Lucia’s beloved Edgardo, and her brother Enrico. He is shown as a very nasty piece of work — a child still playing with his toys, putting his hand up his sister’s skirt, and showing himself to be an immature bully who eventually twists the neck of the mortally self-wounded Edgardo. This is hardly the Walter Scott story on which the opera is based, but the libretto by Salvadore Cammarano cut some of the main characters, namely Lucia’s mother and father, in order to fit the story into a three act opera. The result is usually considered a great success, and it makes Enrico the force behind Lucia’s fatal wedding, against her will, after he has shown her some forged letters demonstrating that Edgardo no longer cares about her. Enrico’s retainer, Normanno who is fully complicit in these forgeries is shown to be a callous rogue when he laughs loudly after hearing the chaplain’s condemnation. Altogether, David Alden has created a particularly malicious take on the story, and it works.

As Lucia, Anna Christy sang beautifully, and looked about sixteen. This was partly helped by her excellent costume, courtesy of Brigitte Reiffenstuel whose costumes gave a strong impression of religious Protestantism, and I liked the bowler hats on some cast members — in particular Normanno — reminding me of the Orangemen in Northern Ireland. Indeed Scott’s original story had this feature, as Lucia’s family were Protestant supporters of William of Orange, while Edgardo’s family were supporters of the Jacobites. But to return to the singing, Barry Banks was a very fine Edgardo, and Brian Mulligan a strong Enrico. Clive Bayley sang very clearly and powerfully as the chaplain, holding the stage with his erect posture, which reminds me that the staging involved people on their knees at many points, making them look small and powerless in this ill-fated drama of love and hatred. This was helped by the set designs of Charles Edwards, which were simple, yet surprisingly effective. With Adam Silverman’s lighting they gave an appropriate air of darkness and decay to the dwelling places of both Edgardo and Enrico.

Of course the singers can only give their best with suitable direction from the orchestra pit, and here we have to thank conductor Antony Walker for excellent work. The orchestra, including a glass harmonica that is used during Lucia’s mad scene, played beautifully. These are performances of Lucia that should not be missed!

6 Responses to “Lucia di Lammermoor, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2010”

  1. John says:

    Thanks for a great review, Mark. I’m reeling, more or less, over your description of Enrico – ” child still playing with his toys, putting his hand up his sister’s skirt, and showing himself to be an immature bully who eventually twists the neck of the mortally self-wounded Edgardo.” Whoa! Great visual.

    Minor comment – about Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to the world of music – I think he called it the Glass Armonica? The Met used one in their new production of Lucia a couple of years ago. Natalie Dessay was Lucia. Memorable, for sure.

    Thanks again – wish I’d been there!

    John

  2. johnesh says:

    Great review. I went to see this last night – it was my first ever opera performance (I thought I’d start with a light, cheerful one), and once I got used to the fact that it was in English, which took me most of the first act, I really enjoyed it. Banks was struck down by laryngitis – I believe the exact same thing happened to him last time this was on at the ENO two years ago – and so Edgardo was sung by Jae-Woo Kim, who was excellent. I was tickled by the notion of a Scottish man with an Italian name, sung by a Korean with an English accent. The whole production was suitably dark and I liked the way this contrasted with Donizetti’s rather jaunty score. Of course Christy was superb, but I was struck that the famous “mad scene” aria was, while a great showcase for her vocal pyrotechnics, in itself not a particularly memorable piece of music. Much more persistent in my memory is the tune from Edgardo’s death scene (in true, hilarious opera fashion an impossibly powerful performance from a man dying of a gunshot wound). Overall, this is an excellent production which I can heartily recommend. I will likely go and see more opera in the future!

  3. operarosie says:

    Excellent review, and comments by johnesh! It sounds like a very diverse performance. Was this a one off or is it running still?

    Interesting use of levels, the performers being on their knees a lot of the time.

  4. John Willman says:

    I thought this staging of Lucia was a disaster. It’s a great story and terrific music, and needs no modern psychological insights introduced – the hints of incest and paedophilia were completely unnecessary. And what was the point of the stage on the stage? And the swinging light over Act three scene 1? And the bed in Act One? And all the people coming in through windows? And the obsession with pictures? I could go on.

    The only singing clearly audible in the Circle was Edgardo’s – Lucia’s words were mostly lost and the chorus just a noise. This was deeply annoying, since you can’t see the surtitles from a £78 seat in row J.

    It has been well reviewed, but when David Alden came up for the curtain call, the applause fell away. An Italian audience would have booed it – and rightly so. The critics see too many productions and thus praise those that are different. They are also willing ENO on to restore its glory days. Jonathan Miller’s Elixir shows just what good direction is – and we need more of it.

    • markronan says:

      I have some sympathy for your reactions, John. It was, as I said, a particularly malicious take on the story. As to praising productions that are different, I don’t mind saying I hate some of them. I’ve seen some horrors in the past twelve months. This particular one worked for me, but I appreciate that it doesn’t work for everyone.
      As to your seat, I must say mine cost me much less than £78 — it was front row of the Balcony — the sound was excellent, and the surtitles easily visible. I think the ENO website shows which seats lack a view of the surtitles — I just checked and found that if you hover your cursor over row J in the Dress Circle, it shows ‘no view of the surtitles’. Perhaps they should make those seats cheaper.

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