LUCIA–Time for a Makeover

Tequendama Falls Canyon with Mist ('03)

Not the moors of Scotland, but misty enough.

(C) Text and image 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Yesterday was the Live in HD transmission of the Donizetti opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, which I have seen before (also Live from the Met, but with Anna Netrebka, and which almost always makes me cry).

Except that yesterday, I feel asleep, more than once.

Singing the role yesterday was French soprano Natalie Desssay, who has a powerful and exciting voice. She’s sung Lucia before, at the Met, and in France, in French and in Italian. She said during an interview with Renée Fleming that she viewed Lucia as fragile psychologically, and that’s what she wanted to bring out in the performance.  The opera itself was produced by Mary Zimmerman, who was also interviewed between acts. She said she and Natalie had discussed this interpretation of Lucia at length during rehearsals in order to get the performance broadcast yesterday.

Oh, ladies, I wish you had not done that.

In brief, Gaetano Donizetti loved a novel written by Sir Walter Scott, titled “The Bride of Ravenswood.” Lucia is a member of the Ashton family, who falls in love with a neighbor, Edgardo of Ravenswood (and he with her). In the book, Scott mingles ghosts and implications of a lot of skulduggery, about which Lucia is aware to some extent. But when she talks about ghosts following her around the decrepid mansion and out into the weedy garden and over hill and dale, not only does no one believe her, but, of course, the talk is that she’s going crazy.

Meanwhile, her brother, Enrico (Lord Ashton) has gone through the family fortune and creditors are banging at the door. His solution? Marry off crazy Lucia to someone with a lot of cash who won’t look too closely at the mansion, the girl or Enrico’s greed. He manages to pull this off in the opera, but on the wedding night, Lucia flips out and stabs her new husband to death. (Shades of “Blood Wedding,” anyone?) At any rate, she starts to go through the mansion, bloodstained and out of it, alarming and horrifying the guests at the reception downstairs as well as, of course, her own brother.

Meanwhile, Edgardo of Ravenswood has returned, he and Lucia have discovered how her brother kept them apart, he disavows her and then recants. When Lucia’s psychosis drives her to death, Edgardo then kills himself over her grave. The end.

Fine. But the production I saw yesterday was so dragging that I reworked it in my mind as I watched the screen. I like my version better.

First, Lucia does not really go crazy. In modern terms, she becomes so angry with her brother’s treachery and Edgardo’s macho posturing, his refusal to listen to her side of the story, that she does indeed flip out. If she’s going to commit suicide, it’s with pills and a double vodka martini. And let’s set this in New York City, so she kills her new husband with a gun, something in the 9 mm range.

Even though we live in a post-feminist age, more or less, women are still not conditioned to express their anger clearly and with force. What we see on television and in films is a surrogate for the majority of women who tend to keep quiet most of the time. We still cry a lot more than we throw things, scream, yell and trash the guy who makes us angry or the place where we live. Therefore, Lucia in the 21st C. would not cringe and cry. She’d hit the roof.

The brother Enrico could be made much more malevalently evil. He’s in debt to loan sharks, he had a drug deal go bad, thanks to the 2008 financial crisis his property taxes went through the already-weak roof of the penthouse and he can’t pay off that third mortgage he took out a year ago. Yet he and his sister manage to dress extremely well–just flip open the pages of Vanity Fair, especially the fashion issue, and you can find their name-brand wardrobes, inside and out. Enrico’s lost count of the number of shades and Rolexes he has. Lucia may be followed around the penthouse and her favorite parks, stores, cafes and restaurants by ghosts, but they’re all as fashionable as she is. Trust me, you can stage a sham wedding and a really FABULOUS wedding night disaster in this kind of setting!!!

One thing that intrigued me was the young tenor who sang Arturo, the foolishly brave young noble who might have died a virgin on his wedding night. On his way to the mansion in the opera (or on his way to the penthouse, in my version), villagers and servants sing warnings to him about the dangers and treacheries he’s about to face. But as young men will, he cares not.  The young man whose name I regret not catching in the credits not only had a wonderful voice, but his acting was credible.  But the intriguing part was that he looked like Matt Damon as a brunette. Suddenly, Lucia is not being sacrificed to some callous youth, but to (GASP!) Jason Bourne!!!

But before Jason/Arturo can do SOMETHING with Lucia’s hair, which needs doing, she kills him. (Okay, change the murder weapon from a 9 mm to a pair of scissors. She didn’t like the new look he gave her.)

And then, in her rage, Lucia throws herself out the window of the penthouse and lands on Edgardo, who is downstairs on the street, next to his new Lambborghini, which he had bought specifically for the two of them so they could run off and get married in Connecticut. Shards of plate glass pierce their stylishly thin bodies, killing them instantly, and they end up splayed over the Lamborghini. Overhead shot, with wet New York street, some neon lighting flickering just outside camera range but reflecting on the street and the sides of the car. Camera pulls back, music up. Cut to black on the last note. Rolls credits.

I like my version better.

As a kind of post-script, I have to add the following: The harpist Deborah Hoffman was listed yesterday as playing the harp solos during the performance. I attended a performance of hers here in Bogotá between 2000 and December 2002, and thought she was marvellous. At the time, her father Irving Hoffman was music director for the Colombian National Symphony, and he directed the orchestra that evening, at the Teatro Colón. That theater had very sensitive acoustics, and the harp filled the air with that celestial quality that one might think is more fantasy than reality.  A masterfully played harp is celestial, and this production of Lucia di Lammermoor benefitted from it.

There are a lot of versions of this opera available in CD and DVD, so I invite the reader to buy the medium of his/her choice and imagine a more personal version of it. Producing an opera is a collaborative process, and if the collaboration inspires listeners to add their own ideas to the mix, everyone gains from it.

(C) Text and image 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved



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