On Friday to OA’s Lucia (see here for a funny encounter about that short title).

This is a new (well, ’tis new to us; it comes from Houston) production that finally gives Emma Matthews a chance to shake of the shackles of the Joan legacy which hangs rather heavily over this piece in Sydney and especially over the old production in which Joan starred when it was first put on.

We heard the overture twice because the piece had to restart when things for some reason or other weren’t ready and the curtain hadn’t come up.  You have to admire the conductor Christian Badea’s sang froid because when the  o0verture was played again it became clear that the curtain had been meant to rise from the beginning.  So I guess it came as less surprise to him than me when the rather worried-looking bearded chap crept forward through the violins to tell him he’d have to stop, wait and start again.

“Are you from interstate?” my neighbour asked me, in the pause before things started anew.  “Often I have interstate people sitting there.”   In fact, I have sat next to him before, but obviously didn’t make an impression.   I told him that I usually sat in this seat, but came later in the season.  “Ah!” he said, “but you don’t often come to the first night.”  I said I liked to wait until the technical difficulties had been ironed out.

There was something that irritated me a little bit about his proprietorial air.  I felt a condescension which rankled.  In retrospect I think he merely wished to share the excitement.  What emulative creatures we are!  I only accidentally go to first nights when I need to change my seat, and can’t say I think all that much of them.  Doubtless they mean something for the performers, but the social scene seems a bit silly.  One odd incident of this is that the front foyer is almost empty as all the important people stream downstairs for their VIP reception (Marie B was up next to Mr T with her dress-uniformed ADC and Mr Shehadie).  It’s a time when you can spot people you love to hate: Bronwyn Bishop was there, wearing fur even though the tempurature outside that day had been almost 30 degrees.  There is a certain element of house (ie, in-house) applause, and there seemed rather a lot of non-returns though I only noticed this after the second interval.  In fact the mood as a whole was strangely a bit subdued – there is more excitement on Saturday nights.  I’m still trying to put my finger on why.

The repeat of the overture took a bit of the wind out of its sails.  It was more exciting the first time in the dark.

It’s a minimalist production – making the point that bel canto is really about the singing.  The action has been brought forward from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century: this makes only a little historical sense but gets rid of the frilliness in the costumes.  The set was abstract and seemed to focus mostly on gloomy weather effects.

There was a touch of the Konzept as Acts I and II both opened and closed with Normando (Lucia’s brother’s offsider)  facing away at the rear of the stage under a spot: was it all Normando’s dream?  If so, this concept was not persisted with so maybe it was just a matter of unities.

A full chorus by OA standards (24 each gender) was supplemented by a bunch of non-singing gents with big wooden staves.  They moved a (very little) bit of stage furniture but were mostly just stage-dressing.

Act III has lost a scene (apparently it’s “optional” – I have no idea if this is really so), so that we went straight to the big one – the mad scene. After the chorus bit, mad Lucia came on looking rather like a blo0d-spattered Alice illustrated by Teniel.  Whatever my reservations about Emma’s handling of the dramatic bits (more a question of vocal quality than acting) in the earlier acts, she really came into her own here.  The opening section of that scene featured the original glass harmonica instrumentation, played on something a little bit less original and rather more electronic.

The other main parts were strongly cast with two international up-and-comers: James Valenti as Edgardo and Giorgio Caoduro as Enrico.  I wasn’t so convinced by Richard Anderson as Raimondo, mainly because, at least close-up, his volume surpassed his control of it.  If I were further back I suppose I might have appreciated the volume more.  Andrew Brunsdon was Arturo rather than the advertised Stephen Smith.

I was surprised to read that Lucia is the 19th-most performed opera (indeed Operabase gives it presently as number 18).  In some ways it is a pantomime version of what opera is often thought to be.  Shorn of the “optional” scene the plot was elementary and even perfunctory. I can’t say I really felt it as drama – more a series of moods.  It all seemed to be over in a jiffy before I could really grasp it properly.  It would be good to be able to go again.

One Response to “Lucia”

  1. Lucia 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] never entirely take at face value the reception a piece gets at first night.  This time, on a Wednesday night, the genuine warmth of the audience’s reception was […]

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