POSTED ON OCTOBER 14, 2009:
TO's opening of Lucia di Lammermoor starts off a delightful opera season
Bravissimo. Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's magnum opus, not only offers aria after aria of beautiful singing, but it also presents a captivating, albeit tragic, tale.
Tulsa Opera opened its 62nd season last week with a production as good as promised -- bloody good.
TO's Lucia di Lammermoor, staged by Stanley M. Garner and starring new mom and Muskogee native Sarah Coburn, daughter to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., opened to a less than packed house, but the sparse audience was the only disappointment. The opera was a delight and a triumph.
Written by Gaetano Donizetti in the 1830s at a time when the composer was cranking out bel canto masterpieces one after another, Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's magnum opus, not only offers aria after aria of beautiful singing, but it also presents a captivating, albeit tragic, tale.
The opera, with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, is loosely based on Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor and tells how a young woman is betrayed by her family and tricked into marrying a man she doesn't love.
Donizetti's opera opens outside the grounds of Scotland's Lammermoor castle, home to Henry Ashton (Hyung Yun), where an intruder has been spotted. When Henry arrives, he reveals that his family's fortune is in danger and that only the marriage of his sister Lucy (Coburn) to Lord Arthur Bucklaw (Yoonsoo Shin) can save them.
When the family's clergyman, Raymond (Harold Wilson) attempts to remind Henry that his sister is still mourning the death of their mother, the gamekeeper, Norman (Brian Landry) reveals that she is using her grief as a disguise for her true feelings. She has fallen in love with Edgar of Ravenswood (Scott Piper), her brother's political foe.
Henry's men return to inform him that the intruder they spotted was Edgar.
In the next scene, Lucy and her companion, Alice (Joy Boland), wait for Edgar beside a fountain in a nearby park. Lucy reveals to Alice in a stunning aria that she once saw the ghost of a girl murdered by her jealous lover in the fountain.
Alice worried that Lucy's ominous vision is a sign that her affair with Edgar is doomed, but Lucy assures her that Edgar brings her only happiness.
When Edgar arrives, he tells Lucy that he has to go to France on a political mission. He wants to make peace with her brother first, but Lucy wants to keep their arrangement a secret. Edgar agrees, and they exchange rings and vows of devotion.
In Act Two, Henry has arranged for Lucy's marriage to Arthur. Norman assures Henry that all correspondence between Lucy and Edgar has been intercepted, and Henry has forged a letter from Edgar telling Lucy that he is in love with another woman.
He shows his sister the letter and insists she marry Arthur in order to save the family.
The wedding commences, and Henry makes a point to remind Arthur that, if his sister seems less than joyous about the arranged nuptials, it is because she still mourns the death of her mother.
No sooner than she signs the marriage contract, Edgar bursts into the hall and, after being shown the marriage contract Lucy has just signed, curses her and leaves in despair.
Act Three opens with a celebration of the evening's wedding. It is cut short, though, when Raymond interrupts and reveals to the attendees that Lucy has gone mad and murdered the bridegroom.
She enters, her nightclothes drenched in blood, and, moving between joy, terror, despair and tenderness, recalls her meetings with Edgar and imagines she is with him on their wedding night. When Henry enters, he is furious at Arthur's murder. But he soon realizes that Lucy has lost her senses and, after a violent exchange, she collapses.
At the cryptic tombs, Edgar laments Lucy's betrayal and contemplates death. Men from the castle enter to tell him that a dying Lucy has called out for him. He determines to go to her, but Raymond enters and informs him that she has passed. In his misery and with a desire to meet his lover in heaven, Edgar stabs himself.
I'm convinced TO's Kostis Protopapas, artistic director and conductor of this production, is incapable of poor casting. Coburn, a coloratura soprano last seen in 2008's Lakme, is captivating, a pleasure to both watch and hear. Both her voice and her acting are remarkable, and her natural chemistry with tenor Piper, last seen at TO in 2007's Carmen, ensures the audience's devotion to both her character and her love for Edward.
Wilson, Shin, Landry and Boland make their Tulsa Opera debuts.
Although the opera is rich with vibrant melodies, which sometimes contrast the opera's dark plot and set, two moments stand out -- the sextet that ends the second act and Lucia's famous "mad scene" in Act Three.
When Edgar intrudes upon Lucy's signing of the marriage contract, the music stops. Time seems to stop. Then, slowly, the horns begin playing, and Edgar begins "Chi mi frena in tal momento," joined gradually by the other singers until their voices culminate in a resounding noise.
Likewise, Coburn's interpretation of Lucy's mad scene likely ranks right up there with the divas, Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland.
It's not just her voice, beautiful and haunting, as she sings "Oh, giusto cielo!... Il dolce suono," but her physical performance as well -- stumbling from her bridal chambers, laughing at the gore she's committed, writhing on the floor as she imagines her lover -- that convince the audience of her tormenting madness.
As Protopapas, who planned this production of Lucia with Coburn in mind, said in an interview prior to the performance, "Tulsa Opera is lucky to have Sarah."
He also pointed out Garner's unique approach to the staging of the opera. He added a silent character to the plot in the form of a wife for Henry. Protopapas said that, in Scott's book, the family matriarch is the one pushing Lucy into an arranged marriage. However, Donizetti killed the character off (the mother), likely to avoid a competition for the spotlight between two female vocalists.
But Garner thought Henry's motivation for Lucy's marriage might be confusing to the audience, so he gave Henry a wife, making it impossible for him to marry to save his family and bridging a gap in the plot.
TO's Lucia di Lammermoor continues Friday, Oct. 16 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 2:30pm in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, 110 E. Second St. Tickets start at $33 and are available at www.tulsapac.com.
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