After an absence of 13 years, “Lucia di Lammermoor” returned to Hungarian State Opera, already at a disadvantage on the opening night as two of the cast were ill, but this did not detract from an immensely powerful and darkly dramatic production.
Delicate Lucia is torn between loyalty to her family and that of her lover, Edgardo, who is one of the rival Ravenswoods. Set in the brooding Lammermuir Hills of Scotland in the 17th century, Donizetti’s inspiration came from the moody, gothic novel by Walter Scott, “The Bride of Lammermuir”.
The opera is extremely dark; madness and murder are the central themes. Balázs Kocsár conducts what is perhaps Donizetti’s finest opera with the overture speaking of the forthcoming darkness, tragedy and torment.
The set design was sparse, barren and echoing with an urban space of three levels of scaffolding with the effects of dense swirling smoke evoking the eerie mists of the Scottish Highlands. In a similar fashion to the recent successes of “La Traviata” and “Faust”, the modern set injects a dynamism and vitality to the opera whilst still preserving the essence of the original.
Striking the balance between the modern and traditional is always a challenge for an artistic director, but Máté Szabó has created a work of near perfection. The minimalist set ensured our focus was always on the performers.
The lighting effectively set the mood with costumes of gothic midnight black contrasting with Lucia who appeared like a bright light at the epicentre, dressed in royal blue and then arterial red.
Klára Kolonits starred as the eponymous Lucia. This dramatic coloratura soprano is one of the stars of Hungarian State Opera with her wonderful bel canto style and notes that spoke of acres of pain.
As Lucia she is perfectly cast; fragile and girlish, splintering like glass when her heart is broken. But it is the famous madness scene in Act III that is the real challenge for this role.
Kolonits gave Lucia’s descent into madness grace and beauty with her voice effortlessly gliding into those sweeping high notes which seemed to stretch into heaven itself.
She at once spoke of beautiful love mixed with oceans of pain, as she danced in ever-flowing circles to the crowd of stunned onlookers.
The awkward moment continues seemingly endlessly as her friends and family watch her first appearing happily crazy before descending into despair and finally collapsing on the stage. There is no need for dramatic scene changes as the characters surrounding Lucia become the set; shifting into an ever-changing composition, afraid and mystified by the sad Lucia and then the mad Lucia.
This extended aria, “Il dolce suono”, is immensely demanding for the lead soprano and is one of the most difficult arias in the soprano repertoire. Fragile Lucia has to sustain herself through Acts I and II to have the strength to whirl into her mad frenzy of Act III.
István Horváth as Edgardo was tender and passionate as her lover, full of angry rage when she is married to someone else, hopelessly lost on Earth without her. He too is broken by the finale.
Arturo, performed by Tibor Szappanos and Enrico (Csaba Szegedi) are the real-life gods who decide Lucia’s fate.
The character of Lucia in a male-dominated world is the epicentre of this tragedy. She remains gentle, fragile and vulnerable even after she has gone mad and murdered Arturo on their wedding night. Royal Opera House’s brutal version of the opera earlier this year, with its gratuitous and graphic murder, was a black mark that spilled over into melodrama.
Although I wanted a little more blood on stage, particularly with Edgardo’s suicide in the final scene, the suggestion of violence can be enough. It is the very fact we do not see Lucia’s murder of Arturo that is such a vital part of Donizetti’s masterpiece.
After the curtains have closed, Lucia remains in our hearts a true operatic heroine, a cruel victim of Fate.
“Lucia di Lammermoor”
Until December 4
(There are two casts,
so check the website for details)
II János Pál Pápa tér 30, District VIII
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