Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lucia di Lammermoor

I'm about half a month late in posting anything on Opera Idaho's production of Lucia di Lammermoor -- I guess since it was a one-night performance and I knew no one would have the opportunity to read a review and then go see the show, I wasn't motivated to write a review right away. But I wanted to review Lucia so hopefully any of my readers who ordinarily might shy away from opera might actually consider going to one of Opera Idaho's next productions.

I won tickets to Lucia from Boise State Radio during their fund drive -- yay, Boise State Radio! -- and took my mom to see it with me. This was my mom's first opera, and she is now officially a fan. I've seen several operas before -- a couple traveling opera companies at Caldwell Fine Arts, one in London, and several student productions at College of Idaho -- and this easily ranked among the best of them.

Okay, starting to sound a teeny bit like an opera snob. Time to deploy the YouTube clip of the Muppets singing the Habanera from Carmen.

Seriously, though, opera is not something you have to be afraid of. Bugs Bunny taught me that. But taking the plunge and seeing a non-Muppet, non-Looney Tunes opera production is easier than you might think. Opera production companies generally try to make opera as accessible as possible. My mom didn't know until we saw Lucia that Opera Idaho uses supertitles so you can read translations of what the actors are singing as they sing it. This is actually a pretty common practice, and a valuable one. Without the supertitles, you might be able to get the sense of what's happening by reading the synopsis in the program and by watching the actors' expressive faces and gestures, but you'd be missing out on a lot of meaning. Some of the lyrics are downright beautiful.

Rochelle Bard played Lucia, who is in love with her brother's rival, Edgardo, played by Christopher Bengochea. Lucia's brother, Enrico (Dennis Jesse), wants Lucia to marry Arturo (Joe Dewey), a potential political ally who could keep the family in power over Edgardo. Enrico tricks Lucia into believing that Edgardo has become engaged to someone else and gets her to marry Arturo. Edgardo returns too late to stop the wedding and is enraged at her supposed faithlessness. When Edgardo tears off his ring and rushes out, Lucia goes mad.

Bard has a stunning voice -- I had to catch my breath a few times during some of her solos. Bengochea's final solo had me in tears. Everyone in the production sang well, but these two had a wonderful expressiveness. Bard does an excellent job of conveying Lucia's madness not just in song, but in mannerisms -- she sits on the altar and dangles her feet girlishly, then viciously throws flowers from the altar at the man she imagines to be Arturo; she absentmindedly drops her veil on the floor, then snatches it out of the hands of her companion, who has picked it up.

I was impressed by the care that had been put into almost every aspect of the production. The sets were spectacular; the towers looked like real stone. During the "mad scene," the lights were ingeniously rigged below and in front of the bench Lucia sits on so as to cast giant shadows of her outstretched hands and crooked fingers across the back wall. It was nice to see the director and cast pay attention to the little things, like making sure the actors continued to gesture and pretend to talk between numbers as the audience applauded.

There were a few things that bothered me about the production -- there were several occasions when some of the actors were blocked with their backs to the audience, and I thought Enrico could have been more forceful and filled with rage at a few moments when he smashes things onto the table during the scene when he shows Lucia a forged letter. Minor items in a production this wonderful.

If Lucia is representative of the type of work Opera Idaho does, I'd definitely recommend checking out Cosi Fan Tutte in March.

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