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UW Opera: "Lucia di Lammermoor"

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Normanno: Daniel Gallagher, tenor
Enrico: Daniel Plummer, baritone
Raimondo: John Green, bass
Lucia: Susan Savage-Day, soprano
Alessio: Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor
Edgardo: Stephen Rodrigues-Pavao, tenor
Arturo: Steven Ebel, tenor
UW Chamber Orchestra
James Smith, conductor


The University Opera's production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor looked good, as a result of period costumes, inventive makeup and wigs, a decent set and simple but effective lighting. People moved around smoothly on stage thanks to stage direction by William Farlow, and there was decent if not inspired support from the UW Chamber Orchestra in the pit under James Smith's baton.

It's a dramatic story, a woman forced to marry the wrong man. She loses her reason -- the famous "mad scene" -- and murders the new husband and her brother before succumbing herself. Based on a Walter Scott novel, Lucia is enacted in music of a particular kind, a 19th-century vocal style called bel canto (beautiful singing). And here the production fared really quite badly.

Bel canto is an especially elaborate, florid style of singing. Professional singers spend many years learning how to do it and only a very few have the unique combination of voice, talent and training to succeed. This Lucia, cast with student singers, was in this respect doomed from the start. Since the days of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, there's been no truly masterful bel canto soprano to fill the opera's title role. Lucia is about that kind of singing and nothing else. Looking good is useful only as an adjunct to sounding good.

Susan Savage-Day, whose voice is small and not nearly agile enough for all those trills and runs, and whose acting ability is fairly limited, could not hope to do justice to the part of Lucia. Tenor Stephen Rodrigues-Pavao was even less suitable in the role of Edgardo, Lucia's true love. His voice is pinched and disagreeably nasal. As the villain, Lucia's brother Enrico, Daniel Plummer presented a breathy, colorless and inflexible baritone.

I left the hall wondering -- and I know I'm not the only one -- what on earth were they thinking? There are lots of operas that can work well in student productions, but Lucia di Lammermoor is not one of them. One might think, "but they have to try and one can't expect too much." I'm all for trying, and I do respect the effort it must have taken to put this opera on. But it really does not make sense to try to scale a cliff without the necessary training or equipment.

Isthmus, March, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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