Opera: Gaetano Donizetti / Lucia di Lammermoor

The Metropolitan Opera (1987) 
Composed by Gaetano Donizetti / Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Alfredo Kraus (Edgardo), Pablo Elvira (Enrico), Paul Plishka (Raimondo), and Richard Bonynge (conductor).

Going retro this afternoon with The Metropolitan Opera’s 1982 Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, a two-hour plus affair taken from Walter Scott’s novel of madness and tragedy among the Scottish nobility.

I’m watching this version because I have it on good authority that this is one of the finest renditions of this opera documented on video, mostly because of a legendary performance by Joan Sutherland who was said to have made this role her own (cue the howls of dissent from the Maria Callas Facebook group). 

Lucia is all sung in Italian which I find kind of disconcerting; I would have liked to hear a Scottish-themed opera sung in Glaswegian, with some parts for pipes and drums. I think a duo of pipers improves just about any music (except maybe C&W). 

Lucia, completed in 1837, is not from my favorite era of western music. For me everything between Beethoven and Bruckner is hit-or-miss. There’s Berlioz, some Chopin, Liszt’s concertos, some operas. But I liked the music and orchestrations in this one, especially the emotional shifts for a hand-in-glove fit with the action of the news of Arturo’s death, and those wild flute lines that evoke the sounds in Lucia’s mind in her big final let-it-all-hang-out wackadoo scene that brought the house down.

The costumes and set design captured in this production are very traditional, which I like. Nothing like a bad modern-day production concept to take the spectacle out of a night at the opera – like, say, if Enrico was reimagined as a bitcoin scammer with Edgardo as his nemesis from the SEC and they both stalked the Met stage in button-down shirts with Patagonia fleece vests while Lucia is going nutso in a tattered white muslin maxi dress from Anthropologie

But not to worry – here everything is staged by the book. All the male leads look swarthy and well-fed and have flowing wavy wigs and their 18th century costumes have about 30 pounds of colored glass faux-jewels affixed to them.  Enrico’s big vest and long phallic sword are cool, and Edgardo has a sweet big pendant that would be the pride of any rapper from any era. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t at some point copied by Jacob Arabo for a Jay Z exclusive

The many reviews of this production that claim Joan Sutherland to be a knockout in this role both for her technical acuity and her acting skills are accurate. Her rendition of Lucia’s showstopper moments — Act I’s Quando, rapito in estasi and Act III’s Ohimé! sorgeil tremendo fantasma – are astonishing, earning well-deserved long and enthusiastic ovations from the excited crowd. 

For the record, I think it’s gauche for the audience to applaud before the end of an act. And also when the singers bow in front of the curtain between acts. Breaks the continuity. People keep it alive to perpetrate the romantic idea of the diva, more for their own aspirational fantasies I think than for true appreciation of the singer. There, I said it. 

Bonynge’s conducting was quite solid, though it had to be – with his wife as the prima donna in the production he’d have caught hell at home if he fell down on the job. I should note that he is still among the living as of this writing, 92 years young and kicking it as a patron, so good on him for staying in the swim. 

Great oldie from The Met! Time well spent.