This was Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece’s third HD telecast by the Met. The previous two were of Mary Zimmerman’s benighted production. Donizetti set the scene in the 17th century as did Walter Scott who wrote The Bride of Lammermoor on which the libretto is loosely based. Zimmerman moved the story to the 19th century. Australian Simon Stone went everyone several steps better by setting the story in Rust Belt America. I suspect the Antipodean director knows as much about the Rust Belt as I do about the Duck Billed Platypus. He wouldn’t know the Rust Belt even if he were garrotted by it.
Stone’s view of the denizens of the upper midwest is that they all have facial tattoos, are drug addicts, drink incessantly, and watch My Favorite Brunette at a drive-in movie. There were a lot of cars onstage, only one had a license on it – California! The Met’s stage looked like a 1950s junkyard. All that was missing to achieve the look Stone seemed to envision were MAGA hats. The action was so far removed from both Scott and Donizetti that the subtitles told a different story from the Italian words sung by the performers.
The staging also featured videos above the stage which displayed Lucia’s thoughts and actions when she was off stage. There was also a TV camera manned by two technicians that followed her around – at least at the opera’s start. An advantage of the telecast is that the screen was often out of view. This time director Gary Halvorson extreme close-ups worked to the viewer’s advantage. It had the charm of attending a Wagner performance while seated behind a post.
After Lucia murdered Arturo both she and his “corpse” were covered in so much Show Stopper Red (SW 7588) that the entire east coast supply was exhausted. Peter Gelb blamed the shortage on Putin. There were also three or four blood drenched zombies that threatened Lucia post homicide. Amazingly all this sanguinary deluge was caused by a small fire extinguisher which was shown to be the murder weapon. Governor Hochul has introduced a bill in the state legislature to ban this size fire extinguisher.
Anthony Roth Costanzo was the show’s host, despite the program listing Deborah Voight. He was an ebullient interviewer who did his best to disprove the general adage that opera singers, when not eating or drinking, should only open their mouths to sing or when at the dentist. There was also an interview with Stone and set designer Lizzie Clachan that gave the rationale for their production. They seemed to be inspired by the desolation of fly over country that to them had the reality of Never-Never-Land.
Hijinks aside, how was the performance? Vocally it was very good. Conductor Riccardo Frizza opened many of the standard cuts such that Enrico’s part was bigger than Edgardo’s. Fortunately Polish baritone Artur Rucinski has a fine voice and commanded the stage when he was active. He’s sung 34 times at the Met. With a voice that seems ideal for the big Verdi baritone roles, he’s only sung two Verdi shows – as the elder Germont in La Traviata. Hopefully, the Met will assign him more Verdi in upcoming seasons.
American soprano Nadine Sierra is still young. Despite her youth she has the title role down pat. Given all that she was put through by the drug and gang addled production she did very well. Singing the Mad Scene in a white wedding gown after being dunked in a vat of artificial blood (see above) was in itself a tour de force. She looked more like a muleta than a bride. Staying on pitch, hitting high notes, and keeping up with a glass harmonica was also a feat. A fine performance by a rising star.
Javier Camarena is a great tenor. His strength is in the ornate and altitudinous roles of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. But not this Donizetti part. Edgardo needs more vocal heft than his light voice can provide. He did very well with the part given that his instrument is not right for it. The best Edgardos I ever heard were Richard Tucker and Giuseppe Di Stefano. The former a spinto, the latter a full voiced lyric tenor. They had very different approaches to the role, both of which worked. Camarena is due to sing Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore next season, a role better suited to his vocal strengths.
Bass Christian Van Horn filled in for Matthew Rose as he did in the previous performance of the opera. His Raimondo was well sung. Wearing a clerical collar among the tattooed, he stood out like a fire hydrant in the Atacama. Vocally, he was excellent in a part that is easy to overlook.
Maestro Frizza though being at or near the prime of life conducted while on a chair. He looked very relaxed which was the way he conducted. He supported the singers and kept everyone together. Given the chaos on the stage it was hard to concentrate on the orchestra , especially in an opera in which it mainly plays a supportive role.
In summary, the invasion of Normandy was simpler in plan and execution that this staging of one of opera’s greatest works. It was so unique (give me a pass on modifying unique, just this once) that you might want to see the replay if you missed today’s broadcast. Seeing is believing.
Metropolitan Opera House
May 21, 2022
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Gaetano Donizetti-Salvadore Cammarano
Raimondo…………….Christian Van Horn
Harp Solo……………Mariko Anraku
Flute Solo……………Seth Morris
Set designer…………Lizzie Clachan
Costume designers…….Alice Babidge, Blanca Anón
Lighting designer…….James Farncombe
Projection designer…….Luke Halls
Video Director………..Gary Halvorson