This film presentation by Palace Cinemas of the Royal Opera’s new production of Lucia Di Lammermoor was captured live from London’s Royal Opera House (ROH) at Covent Garden on 25 April 2016. It features music by Gaetano Donizetti and a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano after Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor. It runs for around three hours, which includes an interval, is sung in Italian (with English subtitles) and is just fabulous!
The wonderful thing about Palace Nova’s opera screenings is that you not only see many operas each season, and from the best seats in the house, but there are many extras that you don’t get by attending the Opera House. In some ways it’s a bit like the extras one often gets on a DVD.
In this screening of Lucia we also got no less than four intriguing interviews: the Royal Opera’s Director of Opera explained the intricacies and logistics of organising opera seasons; Director Katie Mitchell explained her controversial approach to staging the opera; diva Diana Damrau, who sang the title role of Lucia, gave us an insight into how she approached the role; and one of the orchestra demonstrated the intricacies of playing the … wait for it …. the Glass Harmonica, which was the principal instrument during the famous ‘mad scene’ (It comprises series of glass containers, such as wine glasses, that are graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction. Think of getting a wine glass to ‘sing’ by rubbing its rim with a moistened finger!).
These interviews, together with the superb cinematography – not just of the actual performance but of the Opera House itself and the city in which it is situated – makes for a very satisfying concert experience.
As is often the case when seeing an opera that is one of the ‘staples’ of the canon, one looks for a fresh approach, and Katie Mitchell’s production gave exactly that. It has received very mixed reviews that are largely polarised – critics and audience have either loved it or hated it, without much middle ground. For the record, I loved it – it was radically different, which is not always a plus, but this production left you wanting more. It was perhaps too different for some audience.
Designer Vicki Mortimer divided the stage into two halves, with each half having its own set and action happening simultaneously at all times. The innovation was that the action in one half depicts what could have happened – off-stage as it were – but which is not actually written in the libretto. It’s often an implied story line, and what most likely happened, but it’s pure invention by Director Mitchell. For example, early in the opera there is a passionate sex scene between Lucia and her lover Edgardo. Mitchell has Lucia become pregnant, which is pure invention, but it is used to great effect later in the opera when Lucia miscarries (also pure invention) at the height of her personal anguish when forced by her brother to marry someone else whom she does not love. We see this happening – it’s graphic and it’s disturbing.
There are numerous other examples, and the dual action provides an additional dimension to the character of Lucia. She is no longer a woman who is merely the property of a husband. She is, rather, an assertive woman in her own right who does what she can to control her own destiny and to live life as she wants to live it, not as others would have her live.
Diana Damrau is spectacular as Lucia. Not only does she have one of the finest bel canto voices of the day, she is also a fabulous actress. She gives poignancy to every note she sings with finely balanced body gesture and action. She is captivating to watch, and the cinema experience allows exceptionally appealing close-ups. Her ‘mad scene’ was achingly beautiful and completely entrancing. This particular scene included a signature aria for our own Dame Joan Sutherland. Damrau is surely an equal.
Charles Castronovo is also superb as Edgardo. His rich tenor voice and striking good looks make him the ‘full deal’. In grand opera we often see the romantic leads played by singers who have fabulous voices but who are often physically overweight, mature and not overly easy on the eye. Damrau and Castronovo shatter that stereotype. They ooze sex appeal alongside of each other, and it is visceral. It makes the opera sing!
Ludovic Tezier sang the role of Enrico, Lucia’s totally unlikeable brother. He has a wonderful voice but comes across as somewhat wooden alongside of Damrau and Castronovo. The scene in which he implores Lucia to give herself to a man she doesn’t love for the sake of the family’s fortune was disappointingly uncompelling – it lacked emotion.
The overall excellent cast was rounded out by Peter Hoare as Normanno, Rachael Lloyd as Alisa, Kwangchul Youn as Raimondo and Taylor Stayton as Arturo.
Conductor Daniel Oren, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, and the Royal Opera Chorus all combined with precision and allowed Donizetti’s evocative music to soar.
An excellent production, and an excellent screening.
Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Rating out of 10: 8
Lucia Di Lammermoor screened as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting the Royal Opera House, La Scala, Opéra National de Paris and Opera Di Roma– exclusive at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.