BY ANNA BROOK
There are basically two reactions I hear around the law school when I mention opera: one group moans that it is more boring than watching grass grow, the other sighs for the famous opera houses of their native cities of New York or Chicago. I belong to the much smaller second group. You can thus imagine my excitement when I found out that the Boston Lyric Opera put on a production of Lucie de Lammermoor, the French version of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. For those who cannot imagine my excitement, it was comparable to discovering that an 8:15 Friday morning class was cancelled and there would be no make-up session. And so, less than a fortnight after attending the season premier of Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I found myself at the Shubert Theater in Boston for a performance of Lucie.
If you know the plot, you may skip this section:
The plot of Lucie is Romeo and Juliet with a few twists. Lucie is Juliet and Edgard is her Romeo. The dilemma: Lucie’s brother Henri is Edgard’s mortal enemy and in political disfavor that could cost him his life. To save himself from ruin, Henri convinces Lucie that Edgard is unfaithful and that she must marry Arthur to save the family. Torn between her love for Edgard and her brother, Lucie is pushed toward the altar, more as a sacrificial lamb than a bride. Just as she signs the marriage contract, Edgard bursts in claiming his bride, but it is too late, she belongs to another. Edgard curses Lucie, leaving her weeping on the floor.
Lucie’s wedding night does not go as planned. She loses her mind and stabs Arthur. In her famous mad scene, Lucie sings of her happiness with Edgard, whom she imagines by her side. Henri bursts in upon hearing news of the murder and realizes that his conniving has led to his sister’s condition. Meanwhile, Edgard has lost the only thing he loves and is preparing for a duel with Henri, which he plans to lose. He learns that Lucie has died of grief and after a moving aria he falls on his sword to join his beloved in heaven, saving Henri the trouble of killing him.
And now we get to the review:
Besides the language change, the French Lucie is more tragic than the Italian. While the plot is almost the same, Donizetti cut out Lucie’s only friend, Alisa, leaving her as the only female character. Raimond, the one male sympathetic to Lucie, also has a diminished role although David Cushing’s bass made me wish he had a larger part. Not only does Tracy Dahl have a wonderful voice, but her portrayal of Lucie accentuated her loneliness as she navigated the dark slanted platforms that covered the stage. During the mad scene, dressed in all white, Dahl was in a world of her own even though she was surrounded by a chorus of wedding guests. At times she did not see them, and at other moments she thought they were her beloved Edgardo. At the height of the aria, a flute provides Lucie’s accompaniment. It then suddenly drops out, leaving her the lonely voice in the entire theater.
The rest of the cast more than held their own. The tenor Yasu Nakajima (Edgard) and baritone Gaetan Laperriere (Henri) were worthy vocal adversaries. Joshua Kohl took on the role of Arthur, which is expanded from the Italian version, and convincingly portrayed a good man who too is in love with Lucie and is cajoled into the marriage by Henri’s scheme. Tenor Alan Schneider was excellent as Gilbert, Henri’s duplicitous servant.
Although I am a fan of traditional stage settings, the plain yet unbalanced scenery worked well for the opera. Several creative touches added to the enjoyment. Throughout the performance, people with antlers would show up on stage. A fawn that had been drinking from a fountain is killed in the middle of the opera, after which the antlers appear at various intervals, symbolizing Lucie’s role. Lucie’s wedding bouquet provides further imagery of her sacrifice. She begins her wedding scene with white flowers that are replaced by a blood-red bouquet the minute she signs the fateful marriage contract. After the murder, Lucie emerges from her bridal chamber with her arms full of red petals that appear to be blood, but are actually the remnants of her marriage. The performance, accented by Dahl’s mad scene and Nakajima’s final aria, received a standing ovation from the audience.
The Boston Lyric Opera has titled this year the “Diva Season.” The other two productions are La Traviata (March 31 through April 11) and Thais (April 28 through May 9). The best part is that students receive a 50% discount with their ID at the box office on the day of the show. For more information, check out www.blo.org.