Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Lucia di Lammermoor @ Coliseum, London

4, 8, 11, 14, 18, 20, 23, 26 February 2010

Coliseum, London

Coliseum, London (Photo: Grant Smith/ENO)

David Alden’s acclaimed staging of Lucia di Lammermoor returns to the Coliseum for its first revival, retaining many of the original members of the cast. However it’s tenor Barry Banks who steals the show, despite Anna Chisty’s convincing assumption of the title role, while David Alden’s interpretation provided some artistic Polyfilla to fill in the gaps of Donizetti’s plasterboard opera. Alden’s main twist was to reinvent the motivation for Enrico’s behaviour, hoping this would be pivotal to the rest of the story. It worked, but not perfectly.

Enrico was depicted not as a fiery, ambitious go-getter, but as a disturbed, obsessive and incestuous coward. The characterisation veered between his fixation on Lucia as an eternally virginal child, and as her being his rightful (and sexual) possession. This is a good idea- and miles away from original family feud/political tug of war. This dichotomy within Enrico worked up to a point, but the fact that he happily pairs off Lucia with some other man made no sense. Visually the production is very subtly done, set in dank Victorian houses cut through with hints of suggestive lighting to interrupt the overall black and white look.

Brian Mulligan’s portrayal of Enrico was very interesting; his character was the most freshly drawn and had the least clichéd traits of the whole ensemble. His singing was instantly rich, emotive and engaging, true too to the character; but in almost every passage he changed vowel sounds to suit himself, a trick that too many singers think they can get away with. If you’re singing the word “if” you can’t change it to the word “ef”, even if it occurs during a high note, because “ef” simply isn’t a word. Other than that his performance was completely alive to the complexities of the role as conceived by Alden.

Anna Christy sang beautifully as Lucia, her innocent porcelain face matching the smooth surface of her voice. Unfortunately her notes never changed in character from her opening aria of sweet yearning to her ultimate demise and “mad” scene. Her singing would have been spellbinding in a recital and would have won her some bravos, but lacked insight or emotion in a dramatic context. For example when she sang the words “see the phantom”, having a flashback to her vision of the murdered girl, the line was thrown away- there was no terror, no fear or foreboding in her voice. It was a thrilling technical display, but went no further as the character psychologically disintegrated.

Edgardo looked like bad news. Ragged, sweating and desperate, he was totally unsuited to Lucia’s pristine image, which was probably why she liked him. Barry Banks’ performance shone out like a lighthouse lamp among the waves and rocks of this imbalanced opera. He was so convincing that I even imagined that he was singing in a Scottish accent. Whether climbing artlessly through a window, brandishing his useless sword or making empty threats, this was an Edgardo who’d already been ravaged by fate, he’d already lived a life, and that was what made him so convincing. Banks was relentless in his performance, never singing notes, always singing words. He gave a nuanced characterisation and committed himself wholly – especially his penultimate aria, which was a vivid example of what opera is all about.

Lucia di Lammermoor is a wretchedly unsatisfying story that even seems to fail on its own terms Edgardo decides not to kill either the pastor (he asks for it) or Enrico when pushed to the limit, nor does he demand proof that Lucia is really dead (taking the word of his mortal enemy) before he kills himself. It was an entertaining production, but it just wasn’t moving. Australian maestro Antony Walker made an auspicious house debut with a spirited account of the work, and the orchestra responded with crisp playing.

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Lucia di Lammermoor @ Coliseum, London
Lucia di Lammermoor @ Coliseum, London