Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Lucia di Lammermoor

Anna Christy and Brian Mulligan (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Because I’m a Girl!
by Shannon Christy

(My father worked with abused youth on the 7th floor of a county hospital in the rural south of the United States. When I was a kid I would go to his office and peer out the window. More than one time there would be family members holding letters of encouragement to their loved ones who had been committed. On one occasion I asked my father what prevented them from visiting. This is when I learned about the second great taboo, incest.) 

The Canadian Opera Company has selected a searing production of Lucia di Lammermoor that exposes a woman’s role in 19th century Europe while openly ridiculing both temporal and spiritual authority.  Sexual possession and the ability to choose what one does with one’s own body is how this is addressed. The production is such an achievement that the fact that the three main performers are magnificent operatic talents is just like the icing on the cake.

What sets this version apart is that it is willing to push the envelope both figuratively and physically

Lucia di Lammermoor is about a girl, played by Anna Christy, in love with Edgardo, Stephen Costello, and about her brother Enrico, Brian Mulligan, who is in love with his position in the world.  Of course Edgardo and Enrico hate each other and therefore this love affair is forbidden. It is set in Scotland during the repressive Victorian era but the lesson it tells could easily be set in Rome and be a repudiation of the Catholic Church, of the petite bourgeoisie, or of the tradition of the vendetta.

What sets this version apart is that it is willing to push the envelope both figuratively and physically in their portrayal of Lucia as a mere object with no control over her body despite her own desires.  In one scene Enrico demands Lucia to marry Arturo, played by Nathaniel Peake, but as he pleads his case he molests her.  This molestation is in sync with the music and by the final crescendo we are forced to witness just how far he is willing to abuse his sister.

In addition to their ability and willingness to make the audience squirm is the talent they are in possession of.  The entire cast is remarkable but Ms. Christy (no relation), Mr. Costello, and Mr. Mulligan outshine the rest. This is a very demanding role for a soprano and Ms. Christy delivers time and time again in aria after aria.

It is a simple love triangle with the twist of incest and he was successful at bringing out his performers’ best.

Occasionally she seems to be tethered to conductor, Stephen Lord, but she makes up for this by the sheer spectacle of her voice.  Mr. Costello and Mr. Mulligan complement each other and have outstanding stage presence.  Mr. Mulligan is especially vile with his lurking presence and uncomfortable expressions but his voice - though representing the essence of vile - is like a dark amber honey being poured over the ear.

David Alden’s direction is flawless. It is a simple love triangle with the twist of incest and he was successful at bringing out his performers’ best.  He seems willing to let the audience think and to not feed us the answers.  For instance at the final scene Alisa, Sasha Djihanian, shows us her back and stares off into the unknown. The scene works but do not ask me why. At the same time the tempo of the piece and the intimacy of the character has a natural feel. Lord does a wonderful job carrying us through each scene and at no time did I feel like there was a lag in the tempo as he allowed for the performers to catch up.  The music was so synched with the performers' moves that somehow it carried visual emotions over to the audience.

Neither the set design by Charles Edwards nor the costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel are to the level of the story, the performances, or the music but it does not really matter.  For instance, at one point there is a strange black scaffold/ gallows that serves no point whatsoever but does not distract from the performance on stage either. In regards to the costumes Mr. Costello’s kilt with fitted leather jacket seems to come out of Scotland’s equivalent of 90210. It has nothing to do with the other costumes other than to say that he is Scottish and cool. 

This is a dark tragedy about incest and complete utter loss so it is difficult to express it as wonderful. It is a mind-blowing rendition of a challenging concept performed by outstanding performers.  If you are an adult and more than a stuffed shirt who goes to the opera to be seen: this is the show you do not want to miss. 


  1. Except that Donizetti would not have recognized anything in this bizarre Lucia as his beloved opera. This is a 20th Century interpretation that fits neither the music nor the story.

  2. People go to the opera to be seen? How quaint.


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