12 February 2010

Lucia di Lammermoor - ENO, Thursday 4th February 2010

Synopsis: (c) John Grace of The Guardian:
Act 1, Scene I: A hall in Ravenswood Castle, Somewhere in Scotland

Chorus: Out and about in inclement weather / Skipping through the bogs and heather/ We've lost the intruder, he must be clever!
Normanno: You seem quite jumpy ...
Enrico: I am, you numpty / I'm losing my clout / While Edgardo's about / A deal with Arturo / Would be hunkydoro / But Lucia's acting the clown / By turning him down.
Raymondo: Be kind to your sis / She's been hit and miss / Since your mum croaked.
Chorus: The mists have cleared / And just as you feared / The man on the loose is the well-hardo / Edgardo.
Enrico: Feel my pain / Through the driving rain / I hate this man / Almost as much as I hate midges.

Act 1, Scene 2: A park
Lucia: My first song / Is predictably long / With plenty of trills / And high vocal thrills / I've been dreaming for years / It will all end in tears / But my heart won't be at rest / Till Edgardo is pressed to my breast.
Edgardo: Here I am in a trance / For I must flee to France / But our love is strong / And I will be back ere long / To make peace with your bro / Who treats you like his ho / For though he is low life / I want to make you my wife.
Lucia: Did I ever tell you you're my hero? / You're everything, everything I wish I could be / Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle / 'Cause you are the wind beneath my wings / But it could be an idea / Not to mention any of this to Enrico / Cos he is a psychoooooooo.
Edgardo: I will do as you say / Though my heart I betray / But let's exchange rings / To show how our love sings.

Act 2: A drawing room in Ravenswood Castle
Enrico: The silly old cow / Is on her way now / She'd better not kick off / For today she plights her troth.
Normanno: There will be no problem / From that little madam / I've forged a letter in Edgardo's hand / That makes it appear he's shagging half the land.
Enrico: You are a star / Now piss off to the bar.
Lucia: This is the day I've been dreading / The day of my wedding / To Arturo the loser / Who you want to schmooze.
Enrico: Don't be so morose / Things could be much worse / You could have been married to Edgardo the Cad / Who is shagging around, like Iacopo the Lad.
Lucia: As I am not very bright / I must assume you are right / I will go to my grave / A lover betrayed.
Enrico: Do give it a rest / Carry out my behest.
Lucia: Oh what shall I do / Och aye the noo.
Raymondo: You don't have a choice / So try to rejoice / Because God loves you / Even if He's got a funny way of showing it.
Lucia: Very well, I will wed ...
Arturo: ... Now let's go to bed.
Edgardo: I'm back somewhat sooner than everyone thought / And in flagrante delicto you seem to be caught.
Enrico: Now that you're here, we might as well duel ...
Edgardo: I'll cut out the heart of one so wantonly cruel.
Raymondo: Come, come now. You chaps / There's no need for that.
Lucia: It's all a bit much / I'm such a soft touch / Now I've finished my tune / I must lie down and swoon.
Edgardo: Have back your ring / May unhappiness it bring.

Act 3, Scene 1: The tower of Wolf's Crag
Edgardo: I am not asleep / I'm just being deep.
Enrico: There you are, you creep ...
Edgardo: As you sow shall you reap / Let us fight at dawn / When the guests have all gawn.

Act 3, Scene 2: The castle
Raymondo: Try not to laugh / As it does seem quite daft / But Lucia's lost her head / And topped Arturo in bed.
Lucia: My soul is in torment / This is my biggest moment / Sopranos' careers have been built / By wearing a kilt / And seeing how long / They can string out the Mad Song / So I make no excuse / For singing fast and loose / With several cadenzas / All achingly tender / That will leave you breathless and crying / Till my pianissimo dying.
Enrico: Ooh, hark at that / I've been a complete twat.

Act 3, Scene 3: The tower of Wolf's Crag
Edgardo: Where is the fool? / It's time for the duel.
Raymondo: Oh dear, oh dear / Here's Lucia's bier.
Edgardo: I take this knife / To end my life.
Lucia - Anna Christie
Enrico - Brian Mulligan
Edgardo - Barry Banks
Lord Arturo - Dwayne Jones
Raimondo - Clive Bayley
Alisa - Sarah Pring
Normmano - Philip Daggett

Creative Team:
Music: Donizetti
Libretto: Salvadore Cammarano
Translation: Amanda Holden
Director: David Alden
Set Design: Charles Edwards
Costume Design: Briggite Reiffenstuel
Lighting: Adam Silverman
Chorus Master: Martin Merry
Conductor: Anthony Walker

OK, first things first.  Why is it that the ENO, whose avowed policy is to perform opera in English, persist in calling this opera Lucia di Lammermoor and not The Bride of Lammermoor after Scott's original novel?  And why is it described on the title page of the programme as Dramma tragico?

Here's a little quote from the lovely Richard Gere in Pretty Woman: "Your first reaction to opera is very important. If you love it, you will always love it.  If you don't love it, you may learn to appreciate it but it will never become part of your soul"  Or near enough, anyway.    The scene is here and the quote comes about 3 1/2 minutes in (its also what opera should look like):

Well, sorry, but I don't love opera.  I can appreciate the technical skill required to sing it, and I enjoy listening to a good voice.  I am often secretly delighted at just how laughable some of the "plots" are.  I enjoy looking at a well designed bit of scenery or a great costume, and I have been known to come over all goosebumps during a coluratura aria.  But really, I could live without all the pretentious squawking that goes on about it, and I could do without wanky, minimalist productions all done in black and white (so 1990s) and I could do without all the waiting around for something to actually happen during all those long half-hours between the good bits.  And I could certainly have done without Lucia di bloody Lammermoor.  OK, call me a Philistine if you must, but I think this nonsense really confirmed (as if confirmation were really needed by this point) that opera and me are never really going to be on anything more than a nodding acquaintance. 

If I'm going to sit in the dark for three hours listening to people not recognising their wife of 30 years because she happens to be wearing a tiny mask or an 85 year old, 30 stone Dame Nelli Timpani trying to be a 19 year old with galloping consumption then I at least want something decent to look at on the stage during it.  I really did hope that this type of "pared down to the essentials" production had died its final death in the 1990s when people finally realised that opera isn't about realism but about people squawking at each other at the top of their voices in improbable situations so damn the expense and lets have elephants on the stage and all the spare scenery we can lay our hands on and incredibly OTT costumes with glittery bits on.  But here, Castle Ravenswood is a peeling, crumbling Victorian mansion (or possibly a lunatic assylum, who knows) which consists of white walls and empty windowframes and creaky doors and the odd brass bedstead in the nursery, and everyone wears black dresses and black frockcoats and black hats and gloves and black everybluddything else. And very boring it is to look at too.  And I know exactly why everything in this production was black and white - so that when Lucia murders her husband and staggers into the wedding reception covered in blood then all the red will have extra dramatic impact, dahling.  If the director was trying to focus on the realism of the piece, then setting the "mad aria" on a stage within a stage robbed it of all credibility, particularly when the chorus are miming applause in slow motion and being "an audience". 

In fact, the only thing I found remotely interesting was the appearance of the glass harmonica in the pit during the interval.  Apparently the original score for Lucia di Lammermoor featured one of these, but Donizetti wrote it out and substituted a flute instead when he realised that the only glass harmonica player in Naples was a freelance musician who would have needed paying considerably more than the normal orchestra members in the pit.  Of course, the director of this production thought he could score (no musical pun intended) Brownie points by having one of these actually in the scene, but of course when the moment came for it to be used in the pit, nobody was playing it on the stage, so its inclusion seemed absolutely pointless. Interestingly,  one of the reasons that the instrument fell out of fashion musically was a  rumour that using the instrument caused both musicians and their listeners to go mad - which is possibly a reason why Donizetti used it in Lucia's mad scene. There, don't say you don't learn interesting things by reading this blog. 

There were some fine voices in this production, but Anna Christy is vocally far too small and light to be able to pull off a big coluratura role successfully.  OK, she sung it amazingly, but she lacked the vocal punch that the role really needs.  Physically, as well, she is diminutive (and dressing her up to look not unlike Alice in Wonderland didn't really help).  Barry Banks is a fine dramatic tenor but unfortunately is about 5 foot 2 and looked like a hairy Nac Mac Feegle in a muddy kilt.  Sarah Pring as Alisa, Lucia's companion, gibbered about the stage as if it were she who was on the edge of lunacy rather than her mistress  and I could have sung the role of Normanno better myself than Phillip Daggett's thin wailings.  Honestly, I ask you, if you need any indication of just how lunatic the world of opera is, you need go no further than trying to Italianise the name "Norman".

What the critics thought:

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