Eglise Gutiérrez

Florida Grand Opera’s Lucia Di Lammermoor had its season premiere last night (January 23, 2010) at the Ziff Ballet Opera House. Unfortunately it was not one of the company’s better efforts. Director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbet set the action in what seemed to be the 1930’s. There were kilts mixed with dinner jackets though some of the hoi polloi were wearing pants. There was a single stone slab which served as the setting of all three acts. A fountain was hinted at in the first act, while a long table was used in the second.

In general, the staging was stiff and the acting board like. During the mad scene Lucia schlepped Arturo’s corpse onto the stage and then used it as a prop. There was a ghost that kept turning up like a ghoulish penny. In the opera’s final scene Lucia morphed into the ghost allowing her and Edgardo to walk off the stage arm in arm as the departing departed.

Lucia, of course is about singing. If you have the right soprano and tenor for the two leading roles the opera can’t miss. Without them it’s a dreary affair. Cuban-American soprano Egliese Gutiérrez was Lucia. She had a lot of well wishers in the audience who vigorously cheered her performance. She has a dark middle voice that shifts gears above the staff and turns into a sound more associated with Strauss or Mozart. She puts so much pressure on her top notes that her voice must eventually crack which it did – twice – during the mad scene. Her efforts were so focused on getting out the notes that she didn’t have much time left for drama. Lucia demands more than she could deliver.

But Ms Gutiérrez’ difficulties with Donizetti’s soaring vocal lines were slight compared to those encountered by tenor Israel Lozano. Lozano’s voice might be right for Almaviva in Rossini’s Barber, but Edgardo was too much for him. While a lyric tenor can sing the part, a tenorino cannot. Lozano had trouble with pitch; in one phrase he managed to be both sharp and flat. The ghost got in his way during the sextet causing him to lose his way near the piece’s end. He then finished off the great number with a shrieking high note of intermediate pitch.  Why can’t modern directors leave this great ensemble alone? It needs no help or embellishment.

Lozano’s worst trouble came in the opera’s final scene when he completely lost his voice. He managed to croak his way to the work’s end. It wasn’t pretty. The inadequacy of the two principals was enough to finish off the evening. But there were other performers.

Baritone Mark Walters was Enrico, Lucia’s evil sibling. Given to stock villain gestures he has a burly voice that is loud if not subtle. Bass Jordan Bisch was a wooden actor though he produced the evening’s best singing. His mellifluous voice was, however, light. Conductor Ramon Tebar gave a taut reading of Donizetti’s familiar score.

The production was full of silly touches. Both Enrico and Edgardo used pistols. The latter committed suicide by shooting himself. Unfortunately it was after rather than before losing his voice. Lucia’s mourners arrived at the graveyard toting umbrellas. If you were new to Lucia you might wonder why it’s been such a big hit for 175 years after seeing FGO’s weak effort.

This was my first time at Miami’s new music center. From the outside the two halls are gleaming white and very impressive. The opera house from the inside is austere and stark. It lacks the plush luxury one associates with a lyric theater. The acoustics, however, seemed bright and full, though I was only six rows from the stage. I can’t tell how the music sounds at the back of the fourth balcony.

In summary, FGO can and has done much better. When you charge more than $200 for the top ticket you have to do better than last night.

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