With sounds from the past, modern tech and spectacular singing, Lucia di Lammermoor has arrived at LA Opera, including striking performances by Russian coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova, baritone Stephen Powell and one of my favorite basses, James Creswell, who knocked our socks off in last year’s Flying Dutchman.
The set pieces are simple, but the look of the production is very modern, with powerfully evocative images projected onto the stage and sometimes on multiple scrims, creating an almost 3D effect. Impressive teamwork on the part of projection and scenic designer Wendall K. Harrington, scenery designer Carolina Angulo and lighting designer Duane Schuler created stunningly beautiful atmospheric changes with broad shifts of mood, accented with elaborate costumes by Christine Crook. As projections continue to become not only accepted, but an expected staple of opera stagecraft, it is exciting to see such splendid use of light and color as an integral part of the storytelling.
The music is intoxicating, and the performances at the dress rehearsal were good in general. But it’s surprising to find that the two things everyone seems to be talking about regarding this production are Shagimuratova’s flat-out astounding portrayal of the doomed bride (in spite of an announcement that she was feeling “under the weather” – we didn’t hear it in her voice) and a lesser-known instrument that has long been left behind in most Lucia attempts: the glass armonica.
You’ve probably heard a glass armonica, even if you don’t realize it: this fascinating instrument was perfected by Benjamin Franklin, is played with the fingers (much like making a crystal water glass hum at Thanksgiving dinner), looks like a bunch of spinning glass bowls mounted on an old-fashioned sewing machine table, and modern audiences often comment that the sound reminds them of a theremin. This irresistible creation has been accused of causing madness in both its listeners and players, but enjoyed enough popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries that more than 400 works have been written for it. Donizetti used this instrument in his original score to convey the sound of Lucia’s splintering mind in the bride’s famous “mad scene”. But the part was quickly adapted for flute, due to a monetary conflict with the armonica player, early in the premiere production. The vast majority of Lucia performances are now played using the alternate version, but LA Opera has brought French multi-instrumentalist Thomas Bloch to Los Angeles to give us a more authentic experience of one of the most beautiful operas in he repertoire.
Lucia di Lammermoor gets six performances, running March 15 to April 6. Event listing
For tickets and information on this production, see the LA Opera website, which has a full list of cast and crew, synopsis, loads of photos, a podcast featuring the lead diva, and much more. LAO: Lucia di Lammermoor
This classic recording of Lucia features some of the finest artists of their generation, and has repeatedly been called the definitive recording of this essential dramatic work. The Royal Opera House recording stars Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherill Milnes, and is conducted by Richard Bonynge… All that star power, and the box set is available through Amazon for less than you think.
For another armonica-related event this weekend, catch one of two performances of “Music of the Hemispheres: Ben Franklin and the Glass Armonica” by Les Surprises Baroque, featuring local player William Zeitler, tenor Matthew Tresler and a very fine group of period instrument players. The program includes readings and other elements illustrating the many-faceted life of founding father Benjamin Franklin.
Zeitler’s 2007 CD will give you a taste of the range and emotional power of this incredible instrument, and is available as an audio CD or MP3 download.