Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Brenda Rae in her element in Santa Fe’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Brenda Rae | Photo credit Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera
Santa Fe Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Lucia de Lammermoor” (July 21) received a stellar performance from Brenda Rae in the title role. The Grammy-nominated soprano sang with superb control, relying on coloring and shading of vocal lines, yet always having plenty of power to create astounding dramatic moments. The best was Lucia’s mad scene, eerily enhanced by the wonderfully nuanced playing of the glass harmonica by Friedrich Heinrich Kern, which brought down the house. In addition to Rae, the production featured a very strong cast but seemed pushed a little far afield by the stage directions of Ron Daniels.

Zachary Nelson’s stentorian voice embraced the character of Lucia’s wicked brother Enrico with obsessive determination. His visceral expressiveness was matched equally well by Mario Chang in the role of Lucia’s lover Edgardo. Christian Van Horn’s basso profundo terrifically anchored the countenance of Chaplain Raimondo. Sarah Coit wonderfully conveyed steadfast yet cautionary advice as Lucian’s companion Alisa. Stephen Martin’s Normanno supported Enrico with loyal fervor. Carlos Santelli fulfilled the role of the bridegroom who was murdered by Lucia on their wedding night. Because of the excellent casting, all of the ensemble numbers, including the famous sextet at the ill-fated wedding, were stunning.
Mario Chang and Zachary Nelson| Photo credit Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera
The oddities in this production began in third scene, which was set in Lucia’s bedroom rather than in Enrico’s apartment at Lammermoor Castle. This heightened the idea that Enrico was in charge of Lucia’s body and sexuality and therefore her marriage. But it had a strain of creepiness, especially when Enrico sat on Lucia’s bed as if it were his. Somehow, it seemed a stretch that Lucia would have allowed him to prowl around her chambers with that kind of familiarity. Enrico’s obsessiveness boiled over at the end when he kills Edgardo. So Edgardo does not kill himself as the story states.

Also under Daniels’ direction, the chorus seemed completely disengaged when the blood-stained Lucia appeared in front of them. No one showed any sign of shock or surprise even briefly. It was as if they expected her to join them in a merry glass of brandy.

The scenic design of Riccardo Hernandez featured high walls on three sides of the stage, which conveyed the imposing yet prison-like confinement of the castes. But projections designed by Peter Nigrini that should have presented the outdoor scenes were not effective. Lighting designed by Christopher Akerlind deftly evoked a fountain of blood when Lucia related her dream of a murdered young woman.

The orchestra, led by Corrando Rovaris, sounded terrific, balancing deftly the voices throughout the evening, The star of the orchestra, though, was Kern, who is a magician with the glass harmonica.

Bottom line, Brenda Rae was in her element as Lucia. She has been making a name for herself in European opera houses and hopefully she will be back in the States soon.

Christian Van Horn and Opera Chorus | Photo credit Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

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