Thursday, April 18, 2013


Pictured: Anna Christy

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
18 APRIL 2013
R: 4.5/5

TORONTO - Seems we've strayed a long, long way from Brigadoon, Jocko. So, consider that fair warning to those who hope to find even the tiniest bit of highland romance hidden in the heather in the Canadian Opera Company's latest production of Gaetano Donizetti's bel canto classic, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. The production that opened at the Four Seasons Centre Wednesday favours "dour" over "ardour" at every turn.

In fact, in this production (borrowed from the English National Opera), director David Alden seems to do everything he can to strip even the faintest vestiges of romance from Salvatore Cammarano's libretto, itself adapted from Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor. In the process, he makes it abundantly, even validly, clear that he has found absolutely no romance in the notion of a young girl driven to madness and beyond by her venal, even depraved, brother's plotting. Think of his Lucia as the love child of Scott and Charlotte Bronte, raised by Charles Dickens, and then analyzed for the stage by Tim Burton's depressive brother, with the help of Freud.

And the surprising thing is that, at least for those whose hearts aren't fired by the the imagined romance of the moors, it proves to be a valid take, for all that Alden could be accused of going more than a little heavy on the incestuous underpinnings he imposes on the tale. Set in a bleak and decaying Victorian manor house where doors are apparently at a premium (designed by Charles Edward and lit by Adam Silverman), this is Scott's tale glimpsed through a glass darkly, the bloodbath unleashed by the heroine's forced marriage offering scant and certainly vivid scarlet relief from the monochromatic greys of Brigitte Reiffenstuel costuming.

But if the story and its setting are bleak — and they most certainly are — the full power of Donizetti's music is undiminished in a musically muscular production, served up by the superb COC Orchestra under the baton of Stephen Lord and magnificently sung at every turn by a virtuosic cast. Principal amongst them, of course, is the diminutive soprano Anna Christy in the title role, playing flawlessly and courageously into Alden's vision of Lucia as the tragic plaything of her corrupt brother Enrico, sung by baritone Brian Mulligan in an impressively over-the-top portrayal of greed and malevolence.
And though, sadly, in this dark and stormy production, we never get even the slightest inkling of the joy their love might have brought them, the soaring passion of Christy's magnificent voice is powerfully teamed with the raw but flawlessly controlled richness of tenor Stephen Costello's impassioned performance as her lover Edgardo. Madness and despair have rarely been given such terrible beauty, as these two strive to milk the last drops of bel (beauty) from enduring cantos (songs), regardless of how sordid Alden's vision becomes.

There is superb work, as well, from supporting players and from the always strong COC Chorus, all of which adds up to a fine evening of entertainment It may not be Brigadoon in the end but it is, in its way, bloody impressive.

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