Monday, September 24, 2012

Chills and Thrills: Minnesota Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor is a feudal story that is equal parts terrifying and riveting


What would you do if your brother was a ruthless killer who not only deceived you about your One True Love, but tried to kill him and marry you off to someone you hated? And what if said brother was also your only living family member?
It’s a brutally feudal idea, but that’s the story behind Lucia di Lammermoor, the Minnesota Opera’s newest show. Lucia’s response is raving madness, resulting in her murdering her new husband on their wedding night and then committing suicide after a terrifying public hallucination. Her One True Love (Egardo) follows suit after he learns of Lucia’s death.
The story is chilling, and it’s given an appropriately chilling delivery. Actors alternately moan and rage and the staging clearly explicates the story’s dark, terrifying plot.
The set is wholly reminiscent of a Nosferatu–esque nightmare, consisting of rough, curved, rock-like monoliths and the occasional bloody silhouette. As one fellow patron put it, the choreography consists of a whole lot of “rendering items symbolically,” and is at times too heavy-handed.
Still, I love the dystopian concept (emphasized with low lighting creating long shadows), and it makes much more sense than the typical cheery baroque opera setting.
Susanna Phillips is riveting as Lucia, fully deserving of the standing ovation she received on Saturday night. Skipping effortlessly through devastatingly difficult (or at least, they would be for anyone else) arias, her voice conveys humor and enormous feeling even through Lucia’s extreme madness and despair.
Her co-stars are no slouches, either. James Westman (Enrico, Lucia’s brother), Ben Wager (Raimondo, the chaplain) and A.J. Glueckert (Arturo, Lucia’s arranged husband) all give strong performances. Lucia’s love Egardo (Michael Spyres), however, bests them just a little bit, providing a formidable (and necessary) vocal foil to Phillips’ volcanic voice. The pair is very well matched, and their duets are the crème de la crème of the performance.
With such a strong cast, Donizetti’s excellent score is well performed, and the orchestra (as always) sets the pace. The lush music is so pretty at times, in fact, that one almost forgets the tale of woe it tells; thank goodness the costuming’s explicit symbolism can help us remember.
Lucia di Lammermoor is a wonderful show, well worth a weekend visit. Catch Susanna Phillips while you can.
 + Minnesota Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor will be staged on March 6, 8 and 10. For more information visit mnopera.org.