Sunday, 1 May 2016

Women With Knives Part 2: Lucia di Lammermoor

The Old Man and me sat ourselves down in our local cinema last week for the Royal Opera House broadcast of its new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor".

I'm quite happy to see new interpretations of operas and this production has certainly caused controversy and do give a melodramatic deal of blood and savagery albeit perhaps not in the form anticipated. Director Katie Mitchell relocates it from Donizetti's Scotland of the 1700s to the mid-1800s by way of bringing the action closer to Donizetti's own era (she says in an interview on the ROH site) and because she views Lucia not as a young "victim" but as a mature, cultured woman... and the mid-1800s was a period filled with "brilliant [unmarried] women artists".
OK. But perhaps "pax" to earlier feminists such as Mary Wollstonecroft (1757-1797). Not to forget Wollstonecroft's daughter, Mary Shelley, who happened to beat the boys (Byron and husband Percy) at late-night horror stories by creating Frankenstein in 1816 and succeeded in publishing it, albeit anonymously, the year before Sir Walter Scott's own publication of his original "Bride of Lammermoor".

Mitchell's production has a split stage to enable a continuous line of action for Lucia. We see her dressing, reading letters, waking up in the morning, etc, regardless of whether she is part of the musical scenario, which takes place on the other half of the stage. Cinema-goers watching the live broadcast version with its close-ups and different points of view may not have been exposed to the full effect of this device. I do wonder if it proved distracting for the theatre audience, certainly in the case of the silent masque murder-scene which traditionally takes place off-stage. And what also troubled me about this scene was that it seemed to depart so much from the traditional view of poor innocent Lucia that I couldn't really make it lie down with the notion that she then proceeds to go mad... tout suite. Though I did enjoy the addition of Donizetti's originally scored glass harp accompaniment to Lucia's hallucinatory insanity. Certainly Diana Damrau as Lucia earns her keep and sings pretty lovely as well and we were both impressed by the acting and singing of Charles Castronova as Edgardo.

I enjoyed my night out at the opera thoroughly. In retrospect the production is device-heavy and overthought in its details... which don't always hang together. (But then Donizetti's own scenario doesn't leave much room to "explain" the sudden descent of madness onto poor Lucia's head). But I enjoyed the performances and if the director enabled some of these, then so be it. Ultimately, me and The Old Man were still arguing and discussing the whole thing a couple of days later which many would say was a mark of a good, meaty show. Or is it? Dunno ... but I'm glad I went.

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