Lucia di Lammermoor

Gaetano Donizetti
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera, New York

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Joan Sutherland as Lucia, Alfredo Kraus as Edgardo

In my earlier reviews of the current Met Opera on Demand season, I’ve commented on the old-fashioned nature of Met stagings in all but recent productions. This was never more true than of the 1982 broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor, which is now available to stream. I think that Sir Walter Scott, on whose The Bride of Lammermoor the opera is based, wouldn’t be surprised by anything he saw.

When the singing is superlative, as it is here, I always feel that it makes no difference whether the staging was conceived in 1904 or the opera were set on a U-boat.

Lucia was Joan Sutherland’s signature role. She first sang it at Covent Garden in 1959 and still owned it at the age of 57. The voice was beginning its decline by then but it wasn’t the warble it became in the years leading up to her retirement in 1990. The performance is still a wonder to behold.

She’s matched by Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus in the role of Edgardo. He was perhaps the most under-rated of the great tenors of the second half of the 20th century. His performance as Massenet’s Werther was phenomenal and he’s stupendous here too, especially in his two fourth act arias that end the opera. I have to say, I had to scroll back and hear them again.

The story’s simple: Lucia is betrothed to one man while in love with another, stabs the bridegroom to death, goes mad and dies and then the true lover stabs himself too.

Richard Bonynge, husband and frequent collaborator of Sutherland, conducts the Met Orchestra nimbly and full-bloodedly. The act 3 sextet, one of the loveliest ensemble moments in all opera, is taken at a fair lick but sets the audience off again (the video would be quite a bit shorter if it weren’t for the frequent breaks for worshipful applause).

What you won’t hear is the eerie effect created by the glass harmonica, something that Donizetti originally intended and which has come back into fashion of late. The flute accompaniment to Sutherland’s fireworks in the so-called mad scene is less effective but you barely notice as she takes all the runs, trills and top notes in her stride.

The supporting cast, including long-term Met favourite Paul Plishka as Raimondo and Pablo Elvira as Enrico, are strong and the chorus are on top form.

The essence of bel canto opera is standing and delivering beautiful sound but recent productions of Lucia di Lammermoor, such as David Alden’s at English National Opera, have shown it can be an effective piece of drama too.

I can’t resist thinking that the best way to hear it, though, is in a presentation like this: the best singers doing their best work and the director relegated to the side-lines. We may not get the chance to see that again in the future, so this is a slice of the past to treasure.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera On Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($4.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Simon Thomas

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