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November 2, 1999

Lucia -- Misfortune in a Major Key

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

The Mobile Opera opened its season last weekend (October 21, 23) with the Scottish- Italian tragedy of Lucia di Lammermoor. And Scottish-Italian it was -- gloomy windswept moors of the north set to the bright and melodious music of sunny Italy. Based on Sir Walter Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor, it is a simplistic tale of lovers from two warring houses who inevitably die in the end.

But gloomy as the tale might be, the performance was bright and beautiful. With loans from opera companies in Virginia, Utah and Atlanta, the cost of a lavish production can be kept down and still have first class costumes, sets, and titles. And they were first class. The set in Act II of a room in the Lammermoor mansion was especially impressive with its window and sun streaked wall, and the stage full of Highlanders in early 18th century costume was equally imposing. The chorus sounded good, looked great, and acted the guests who talked and danced with animation, and the English supertitles (subtitles projected above the stage) were easy to read and gave only the needed translation. There were a lot of good things about this performance!

Richard Lewis gave an especially strong performance as Enrico, Lucia's brother. This character was not your typical older brother -- but was a desperate, frightened man who gave in to emotional bouts of anger. His rich baritone carried well over the orchestra, and his stage presence matched the intensity of the role he played. If you were sitting near the front, even his subtle gestures and facial expressions were witty, chagrined, remorseful. Fine singing, fine acting.

Soprano April-Joy Guittierez was a rather wooden Lucia with a golden voice in the early part of the opera -- seeming rather will-less and petulant -- the victim of her brother's desperate need to save himself through her marriage to someone other than Edgardo. Singing a role made famous over the years by Jenny Lind, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills, Guittierez' voice rose to the occasion. Her Mad Scene's mercurial mood changes made up for her earlier spaciness, and she tackled the scene's pyrotechnics of vocal display with verve -- "which only an insane woman would think of singing , but no insane woman would have the control to sing" as one writer said. She was deliriously out of it -- wide-eyed, coy, terrified, loving, distraught, pouting. This scene made her performance come alive and is justifiably the climax of the whole opera.

Tenor Philip Webb as Edgardo, Lucia's lover, had some of the most beautiful arias. His high notes were clean, and he acted the part of the hunted lover well. He played the last scene in the opera with the intensity needed to balance Lucia's Mad Scene which came right before it. The moment where he sings with the cello also beautifully paralleled Lucia's riveting duet with the flute, but richer, and more pathetic. In fact, the last two scenes were beautiful complements of each other: the colorful wedding guests, Lucia's bright blood-stained, white shift and her whimsical realities followed by somber, dark costumes in the blackness of night, and very real despair ending in the sudden suicide of Edgardo.

Other notable performances included Mobilian Wanda Sigler as Alisa, whose voice was well matched in color to Lucia's and whose animation carried her first scene, and former Mobilian Chauncey Packer, whom we saw last season in Pagliacci. He is beginning to be quite at home with more experienced artists, and he sang well. Good work for the home team!

The two directors did some of their best work on this production. The orchestra, under Shannon's clear conducting, evoked all the nuances of the moors with the ever present and well played French horns, and the harp and flute solos, and Tresnjak's stage direction gave the space and the people in it a life which was flamboyant but natural, theatrical but believable. Bravo. All this anguish, madness and death in a major key, two angry families, the Scots and Italians - all were unlikely duos which made a delightfully strong performance.


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