Diana Damrau Shines in an Otherwise Uneven Lucia di Lammermoor

GermanyGermany Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor, Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus, Oksana Lyniv (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 25.7.2015 (JMI)

Elza Van Den Heever in Don Carlo (c) Frederic Desmesures

Lucia: Diana Damrau
Edgardo: Pavol Breslik
Enrico: Dalibor Jenis
Raimondo: Alexander Tsymbaliuk
Arturo: Emmanuele D’Aguanno
Alisa: Rachel Wilson
Normanno: Dean Power

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Barbara Wysocka
Sets: Barbara Hanicka
Costumes: Julia Kornacka
Lighting: Rainer Casper

I’m back in Munich for the final performances of the festival, starting with Lucia di Lammermoor. The result was rather disappointing and, in any case, not what one anticipates here: it fell below expectations in terms of staging, music and voices. Only Diana Damrau performed at the Munich level of quality.

The Barbara Wysocka production, which had its premiere last January, was the first letdown of the evening. She has moved the action to 1950s America, and although one is quite used to these changes, they rarely work out. There is one set for the entire opera: a large room that serves for the opening scene, for the fountain scene (with a painted fountain on the floor) and for the meeting of Lucia and Edgardo, who arrives in a large convertible and parks (why not!) in the same room. This room also holds the marriage of Lucia and Arturo, the mad scene and the tower scene, ending its multi-use in the final scene as a cemetery. A large graffitied Ashton on the back wall appears to have been written at the beginning of the opera by Edgardo. Two extras are brought on stage to erase the graffiti, but without success, and it remains throughout the opera. The costumes are appropriate, including Edgardo in a leather jacket.

These transpositions only work if the director does a brilliant job, which was not the case here. For Barbara Wysocka, Lucia is not a submissive girl but rather a modern woman, facing Enrico as an equal in Act II, which makes her acceptance of marriage to Arturo even more incredible. The famous mad scene presents Lucia threatening everyone with a gun; in truth, one ends up bored by the pistol during the 20-minute scene. When Raimondo appears at the wedding party in shirtsleeves and covered with blood, I started to wonder how Lucia would look. Well, nothing like Raimondo: Lucia comes on stage without a spot of blood on her dress. Perhaps the most absurd moment in Act III is the presence of Edgardo’s big convertible on stage. The car had reappeared in the tower scene, where Edgardo seemed to have an accident, and it remained on stage. I recommend that opera goers study the plot before seeing this production.

In January, the musical direction was entrusted to Kirill Petrenko; he was unable to be in the pit here as he had to conduct The Ring at Bayreuth. I have to say that the musical version offered is the most complete possible, and includes even the trio that closes the mad scene (which, incidentally, is pure anticlimax with very little musical and dramatic sense). In addition, the cabalettas were always repeated.

Oksana Lyniv replaced Kirill Petrenko, and I found her conducting unsatisfactory. It was full of firmness and energy, but bel canto operas require more than that. Her reading was too dramatic, and the orchestra’s sound was too loud throughout the performance. I missed emotion and nuance: it all sounded rather flat. I would like to see her conducting in a different repertoire. The orchestra showed its quality and followed what her baton required. The performance of Sascha Reckert on the glass harmonica should be highlighted.

Leading the cast was Diana Damrau, probably the best Lucia in recent years, who can be compared with the greatest performers in the history of this role. Few of them have been able to offer a voice so well-suited to the demands of the character, together with such a beautiful timbre, infallible technique, a firm top register and the ability to convey emotions. She portrayed Lucia with outstanding intensity from her first appearance on stage, even though she did have to deal with a rather unfortunate vision of Lucia. I’ve had the chance to enjoy Diana Damrau in this character in  the past, and I have the impression that there will not be many more opportunities to see her as Lucia. Her very top is not as easy now, although her other qualities remain intact. The first part of the mad scene did not finish with the much-anticipated top note, as she always has done in the past; she avoided it, offering instead some variations of little interest. She did finish the second part of the scene on a top note, but it was much shorter than in the past.

Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik is a great singer and especially loved in Munich, where he sings regularly. I think he  is one of the best Mozart tenors today, but his vocal characteristics are not what Edgardo requires. Breslik is a light tenor (light-lyrical, perhaps), and Edgardo needs a full lyric tenor. His interpretation was remarkable, but his voice does not have enough weight. In the tower scene, possibly the heaviest one in the opera for Edgardo, Breslik was insufficient. The excessive sound from the pit made him force his voice on more than one occasion and created problems in his final aria.

Enrico was played by Dalibor Jenis, whose voice still offers power and some glitter, but his singing is monotonous. Enrico is an evil character, but that should not prevent one  from singing the part with more elegance.

Bass Alexander Tsymbaliuk gave life to Raimondo. As always, his powerful voice is impressive, but in this kind of opera more grace is needed. I found him rather rough in his singing.

Emanuele D’Aguanno was a serviceable Arturo, while Dean Power did well as Normanno. Rachel Wilson was unremarkable as Alisa.

One again there was a full house, and the audience fully disagreed with my opinion of the performance. There were cheers and great enthusiasm at the final bows, particularly for Diana Damrau and Pavol Breslik. Oksana Lyniv and Alexander Tsymbaliuk were also cheered.

José M. Irurzun






Credit: Wilfried Hösl


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