Diana Damrau Superstar: Triumphant Lucia di Lammermoor in Bilbao

G. Donizetti: Lucia di LammermoorSoloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra, Coro de Ópera de Bilbao. Conductor: Carlo Montanaro. Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao. 20.05.2011 (JMI)

Production: Fundación Ópera Oviedo
Direction: Emilio Sagi (Original)
Pablo Viar (Revival)
Sets: Enrique Bordolini
Costumes: Imme Möller
Lighting: Eduardo Bravo


Lucia: Diana Damrau
Edgardo: Michael Fabiano
Enrico: Ludovic Tezier
Raimondo: Simón Orfila
Arturo: Francisco Corujo
Normanno: Manuel de Diego
Alisa: María José Suárez

Picture Courtesy of Asociación Bilbaína de Amigos de la Ópera, © E. Moreno Esquibel

The 2010/11 Bilbao opera season in ended with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and it was, easily predictable, been the biggest success of the season. Bilbao aficionados got what they love most: voices. Only cancellations could have jeopardized the success.

The stage production was Emilio Sagi’s, borrowed from Oviedo where it premiered a decade ago, although with different costumes then. I had the opportunity to see the production in Oviedo both at its premiere in 2001 and at its revival in 2007 (with the actual costumes) and must say that the result is better in Bilbao, due to the fact that Palacio Euskalduna has a larger stage than Teatro Campoamor in Oviedo. The sets consist of some fake metal walls with arches above, and the action takes place in this enclosed space which facilitated the projection of the voices—not a negligible point in bel canto. The action was moved to late 19th with rather dark overtones that allow Eduardo Bravo’s lighting to become the protagonist of the show. It is an attractive and efficient production that narrates the story without unnecessary second guesses.

On the podium was Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro who visited Bilbao in March of 2007 as a last minute replacement in Dialogues des carmélites. His direction now was remarkable and he has been one of the pillars for the success of these performances. Bel canto is so neglected these days that is really difficult to find a good conductor for this repertoire. The traditional bel canto conductors are dead, retired, or above 80, so good choices are few, and far between. Today someone like  Evelino Pidó has just about become the benchmark in bel canto. The arrival of a young conductor such as Carlo Montanaro, who has shown a great suitability and familiarity with this music, must be greeted all the more enthusiastically. There was always tension, he never covered the voices and he got an excellent performance from the orchestra. I have the impression that the singers were delighted with him and it does not surprise me at all.

The German star Diana Damrau was poor Lucia and there is no question that she is one of the great Lucias today, if not the best of them all. Diana Damrau offered a voice with enough weight, perfectly suited to the role, able to cope with the demands of the score, including embellishments, which are very important in this operatic genre, besides being an accomplished actress capable of conveying strong emotions to the audience. When compared with the great Lucias in recent decades (Sutherland, Gruberova, Anderson, Devia) you can discuss little details here or there, but for me she resists the comparison with them and I consider her as the reference Lucia today. The traditionally cold public in Bilbao gave to her the most intense and enthusiastic cheers heard in this city in the last ten years.

Young (27) American tenor Michael Fabiano was Edgardo and I must confess that I left the theatre with a feeling of deep sadness, which I’ll try to explain. Michael Fabiano has qualities that could make him a most rarified and sought-after tenor, and these qualities are perhaps the most important for a singer. His voice responds in the middle to a lyric tenor with enough weight, attractive and perfectly projected voice. His timbre is not of ravishing beauty, but it has more than enough quality to attract any audience. To this we must add a youthful and ardent temperament, reminiscent of the young Carreras. Further add excellent diction and you have a most promising tenor. But there is no complete happiness in this world and that’s where my sadness comes in. Fabiano’s voice works perfectly and brilliantly up to G.  From there up the voice becomes rather matte, high B is more than problematic, and the high C does not exist. I think he is fully aware of his limits and that makes him attack notes those notes hesitantly, which only further ensures that they are are off pitch again and again. The audience decided rightly to value his qualities more than his shortcomings, but I feel sad thinking on what he could be with a better high range.

Ludovic Tezier was an excellent Enrico, although I have the impression that he was not in full health. His stage performance was most convincing and he proved that he is one of the best baritones today for this particular character. Simón Orfila made his debut in Abao and he was a remarkable interpreter of Raimondo. His voice is not truly beautiful, but he is always an excellent artist. Notable among the supporting cast was Francisco Corujo (Arturo) who started nervously, but improved later.

The Euskalduna was practically sold out and the cheers began from Enrico’s aria and did not stop until the final bows. The final reception was enthusiastic and triumphant, as rarely seen in Bilbao. Diana Damrau was received as the true superstar she is.

The following day there was a cast of young singers, as has been the policy of ABAO during the last four years. Silvia Vázquez was a most promising interpreter of Lucia, and she deserves a very bright future. Israel Lozano was an awful Edgardo, a huge fiasco. Javier Franco was a solid Enrico.
José MªIrurzun