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Lucia di Lammermoor is an opera based on a Scottish romance by Sir Walter Scott. Composed by Gaetano Donizetti, it is a thrilling opera, performed thrillingly by the Dallas Opera cast (Dallas Opera). The main characters are played by Elena Masuc, who plays the title character; Bryan Hymel, who plays Sir Edgardo di Ravenwood; and Luca Grassi, who plays Lord Enrico Ashton. Minor characters are played by Jordan Bisch, Scott Quinn, Aaron Blake and Cynthia Hanna (Dallas Opera).
The pieces are played by a medium-sized orchestra, as well as sung by the actors: Masuc is a soprano, Hymel is a tenor, and Grassi is a baritone; Bisch is a bass, Quinn and Blake are tenors, and Hanna is a mezzo-soprano (Dallas Opera). There wasn’t a sound system; rather the performers’ powerful voices carried through the hall. The performance was at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas at 7:30 PM on October 19th, 2011, the final dress rehearsal before opening night two days later. The audience was small, composed mostly of students who were likely attending a performance for school.
The dress code was semi-formal, though I was allowed in with jeans and a jacket. I was seated in the highest row in the Upper Grand Tier, the view of which is partially obscured by the low-hanging ceiling, as well as the large chandelier. Thankfully, the ceiling did not obscure the stage or the supertitles, and the chandelier rises up so as not to block the view of the high-seated patrons. My only complaint is that it becomes very difficult to distinguish the singers from each other at this height, and for a regular performance I would recommend a lower seat.
In Act I, scene 2, Masuc sings a very famous aria called Regnava nel Silenzio. In the scene, which takes place near a fountain at a park entrance, the main character, Lucia di Lammermoor, sings to Hanna’s character about the time she saw the ghostly figure of a girl who was killed on the very spot they stand, but then sings about the love of her life, Edgardo, who had saved her life earlier in the story. She sings of these things for approximately nine very strange and beautiful minutes.
Through the first half, Masuc carries a terrifying melody, growing from sad downward scales to intense, fearful dissonant chords with the orchestra closer to the middle of the piece. It’s when Hanna says her ominous vision speaks of danger and she should give up her love for Edgardo that Masuc completely switches directions and sings of Edgardo. Now the melody is happy and whimsical, and she sings her highest, most piercing notes in this section.
The rest of the elements are treated the same way, being split between the first and second halves. The orchestra creates dissonant harmonies in the first half, but more consonant harmonies in the second. The key also changes from minor to major when Masuc crosses the bridge from fear to happiness. Though this piece is extraordinary in its attempt to capture love and terror at the same time, it does not quite measure up to the other famous scene in Lucia di Lammermoor.
In Act III, scene 2, Masuc also sings the aria “Il dolce suono.” It is referred to as the “mad scene” of the opera, and with good reason. The lyrics of the aria on their own speak of a beautiful wedding between the main characters, Edgardo and Lucia, but she sings this after murdering Arturo (played by Aaron Blake), who she had married just hours before, and she has gone crazy, hallucinating the experience. She wears a bloodstained wedding dress as she wanders the room, singing whimsically as the orchestra compliments her voice.
The tone color of her voice is whimsical, which set against the subject matter, the previous events and her bloodstained wedding dress should have been disturbing, though it well displayed the character’s insanity. Instead, I found myself deeply enchanted by the voice of Masuc to the point that I didn’t realize the other players had left the stage until they were all gone. This must be the entire point of the piece, though, as Lucia herself doesn’t realize everyone has left either. At this point, much of the music isn’t lyrical, but instead she is simply singing, expressing her crazed joy of hallucinating her marriage to the person she truly loves.
I had very few critical observations to make note of. I thought the pieces were sung brilliantly by all the performers. I also thought that, though the orchestra was a little small, they did a wonderful job of creating a multi-emotional atmosphere for the music. I did have one small issue with the Hymel, the tenor lead, who that night conserved his voice, was sometimes hushed and not so articulate. This is known as “marking.” Other singers did this to a certain extent, but none more than Hymel. It was, however, a dress rehearsal, and it is understandable that he would want to save his voice for the opening night, the “real thing.”
I found myself thoroughly enjoying the music this opera offered to its audience. I came into the opera, and indeed this class, believing that opera is a just for hoity-toity types who have enough money to spend on listening to singers who couldn’t even properly hit a note without giving it lots and lots of excess vibrato. After being exposed to it, though, I found that I really do enjoy this type of music, the beauty of the solo arias and the intensity of the ensemble numbers. I do still think there’s such a thing as too much vibrato, but I can see past that a lot better now.
I also very much enjoyed the epic scale of the opera, that the writer and performers managed to stretch such a simple story to such a large length, which didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I did find it slightly funny that the Donizetti decided to give the characters relatable Italian first names combined with more foreign Scottish surnames, such as Enrico Ashton and Edgardo di Ravenwood. I’m sure it was with good intentions, but I took the names more amusingly than seriously. Still, Lucia di Lammermoor is a great opera, with a great story and wonderful music. Though this night the singers were marking their voices, I’m sure they do a much better job singing “for real.” I highly recommend it.
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