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"Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Metropolitan Opera

by Steven Pisano

Lucia di Lammermoor Metropolitan Opera

Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor doesn't really show up on stage until the third and final act, but when it does, scoot up to the front of your seat and listen closely, because there are some scintillating vocal fireworks about to come your way.

The plot is simple, if not very interesting. Lucia Ashton is tricked (via a forged letter) into thinking her true love Edgardo has found another woman, and then is forced by her brother Enrico to marry Arturo, a wealthy man she does not love, as a means to preserve her family’s fortunes. But hold on: she then psychotically flips out and murders the poor sap Arturo, on their wedding day. So maybe this will prove interesting after all....

One problem early on is that while the staging by Daniel Ostling is majestic, and poetically lit by T.J. Gerckens, it is way too outsized for the simple human interactions of the story. After all, even the grandest love stories are between just two people--but here the characters seemed crushed by their larger-than-life setting.

Lucia di Lammermoor Metropolitan Opera

Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Last month, I enjoyed a much more modest production of Lucia put on by the NY Opera Exchange, a small, but professional company. With little or no scenery on a bare church stage, the NYOE production had me fully invested in the passionate love between Lucia and her man Edgardo, very much like Romeo and Juliet--which is essential for an audience to buy into, or else there can be no tragedy. But last Monday, the Met audience wasn’t buying the Lucia-Edgardo love connection one bit. These two are an item? Fuhgettaboutit! Hotter romances have flowered between two people flirting on line at Starbucks.

The only performance worth noting during the first two acts was the strong singing of Alastair Miles as the chaplain Raimondo. So central is Miles to holding your attention, you start to think that maybe the opera should have been called Raimondo di Lammermoor. Not to mention his deep bass voice was as nimble as a tenor’s.

The turning point of the night is when, in Act III, Lucia appears at the top of the balcony overlooking the wedding party after her arranged marriage. She has just carved up her new hubby with a knife she still holds. His fresh red blood soaks her shining white bridal dress.

Albina Shagimuratova in Lucia Di LammermoorCory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Over the next 10 minutes, Lucia spins a spell as we see her mind unravel. Because we never really bought into her love for Edgardo in the first place, we don’t really care that she has gone mad. But forget for a moment whether she touches your heart--just let your ears gorge on that glorious singing!

This long soliloquy (“Il dolce suono”), known universally as “the mad scene,” requires a tour-de-force performance from any coloratura soprano worth her salt, and stars from Callas to Sutherland to Netrebko have stopped the show dead with their turns.

Well, add now Albina Shagimuratova to that illustrious list. This is only the Russian soprano’s second role with the Met, but she nails it--at least in this final act. Not until she stops singing her solo, culminating in a duet with a flute (originally scored by Donizetti in 1835 for a glass harmonica), do you realize how completely swept up you have become in her song—and why you go to the opera in the first place! Did you just hear that? That, ladies and gentlemen, is a voice!

Of course, this makes you wonder why she took so long to warm up. After all, Shagimuratova’s singing in the early scene at the fountain, when she sees the ghost, is pale and tentative. Opera singers a dime a dozen, from Baltimore to Kansas City, can sing like this. But then, suddenly, in Act III, here is this world-class voice, and you can’t help but smile as a tingle goes down your spine.

In other roles, tenor Joseph Calleja as Edgardo, though announced at the opening curtain as getting over the flu, bravely sang his way through the night, and his voice actually grew stronger, shining in the final scene when he kills himself after learning that Lucia has died, so he can finally be with her in heaven.

Tenor Eduardo Valdes sings assuredly in the small role of Normanno, the captain of the guard at Lammermoor Castle. Matthew Plenk is Arturo. Luca Salsi is Enrico.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the direction of Maurizio Benini often seemed to charge ahead at a quick tempo that was sometimes out of step when the entire company was singing.

The Met's next performance of Lucia di Lammermor is Tuesday at 7:30; tickets and info here.

Lucia di Lammermoor Metropolitan Opera

Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera