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Tragedy is a triumph

Opera: West Australian Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor ◆
His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Western Australia, 26 October ◆
Review: Leon Levy ◆

It is a curious historical fact that Naples, the city for which Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor, should have given the work such a faltering welcome in its early years. Possibly it was the case that those first productions did not enjoy the wonderful virtues that were on display on opening night in Perth for the final work of West Australian Opera’s 2017 season.

The opera, composed in 1835 and based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, tapped into a European fascination with the turbulent history and folklore of Scotland. To a modern audience the storyline – that of a vulnerable young girl’s spiral into devastating breakdown, having been tricked by her brother into abandoning her true love and forced into a marriage of financial and political advantage to her family – seems ludicrous and overblown, but the fact is that the plot of the opera is true to the spirit of a recorded tragedy.

The curtain opens onto the noble – although by now a touch creaky – sets. As the first voices are heard – from Normanno, a Lammermoor retainer (well projected by Matthew Lester) and the men of the chorus – we are treated to the first of many vocal strengths and can settle back, confident that we are in safe hands. As Enrico, Lucia’s dastardly and misguided brother, Samuel Dundas cuts an incisive figure, both vocally and physically, as he manipulates his sister to his own ends.

Only moments of happiness for the protagonists Lucia (Emma Pearson) and Edgardo (Aldo di Toro). Photo James Rogers.

The arrival on stage of the star-crossed lovers in secret tryst brings the only moments of happiness for the protagonists, and even those are shot through with anxieties and uncertainties. As Lucia and her politically unsuitable lover Edgardo, Emma Pearson and Aldo di Toro both live up to anticipation: Pearson’s technical command is impressive throughout and, both dramatically and musically, her mad scene takes the evening to great heights; Aldo di Toro now brings an assured and ringing tenor to his role and much pleasure whenever he is on stage. The celebrated sextet is a moment of stasis that follows the turmoil of Lucia’s dazed signing of the marriage contract and Edgardo bursting in to discover her apparent treachery. Instead of the six principals lining up and belting out their lines as was once common, here, Edgardo, sensing that he has perhaps misjudged the situation, leads gently into “Che mi frena”, and the accumulating intertwining voices and orchestra are then able to make their mark most affectingly.

One notable feature of the production is the consistency of all aspects. Of the other principals, Wade Kernot is a mellifluous chaplain, whose attempts at restraint on Enrico and authoritative control of the crowd carried dramatic truth; Fiona Campbell is sympathetic as Lucia’s handmaid; while David Woodward as Arturo conveys a contrasting oiliness of character and a ruthless disregard of his bride’s obvious distress.

David Woodward conveying a contrasting oiliness of character and a ruthless disregard of his bride’s obvious distress. Photo: James Rogers.

Matthew Barclay as rehearsal director and Donn Byrnes, lighting designer, took their deserved bows along with chorus, dancers and the unfailingly responsive conductor Brad Cohen with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

Finally, it should be noted that, with this Lucia di Lammermoor, the 50th anniversary season comes to a conclusion. It – as well as the season as a whole – demonstrates just how high the company now stands in its ability to bring off another triumphant production. WA can indeed be proud of its opera company, and those who may be hesitant, should not deprive themselves of the sheer pleasure of hearing and seeing such a fine staging, and of enjoying Donizetti at the very height of his genius.

Lucia di Lammermoor plays His Majesty’s Theatre until 4 November.

Pictured top: Emma Pearson’s mad scene takes the evening to great heights. Photo: James Rogers.

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