David Alden chooses to set his production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, currently playing at Canadian Opera, in Victorian Scotland in a rather decayed country house. It’s all set up as classic Gothic schtick. The angle is that Lucia herself is very young and is being sexually abused by her brother Enrico. OK, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a better solution than the idea that women are all just inherently unstable and liable to go from shrinking violet to shrieking murderess at the drop of a forged letter. So, it’s an interesting idea but it poses real problems about the nature of her relationship with her “fiance” Edgardo. If he’s the hero of this thing what is he doing having a clandestine relationship with a girl who’s not yet out of the schoolroom? (We can tell this by how she’s dressed). This is a major Victorian taboo. Respectable men don’t go after girls until they are “out”. Are we then to see Edgardo as as a big a cad as Enrico? Maybe. The trouble with that concept is then why do we care what happens to him? Edgardo kills himself. Goodbye paedophile creep. So what! So bottom line, I can take the groping and the creepiness that some critics have complained about but I wonder what Alden is really trying to tell us about the piece.
That said, the performances are very good. Anna Christy acts the role perfectly in accord with the concept, looks the part, and sings very well indeed. The big set pieces come off and the mad scene is terrific, much helped by the use of the really unearthly glass armonica. For me though, the vocal star was Stephen Costello as Edgardo. This was proper tenor bel canto singing with a lovely line and ringing high notes. Oren Gradus, as the chaplain Raimondo, was the most sympathetic of the men, singing with authority and conveying real compassion. He made a lot of a role that could go almost unnoticed. Solidly creepy performance too from Brian Mulligan as Enrico. The other parts were all perfectly adequate. Interestingly Sasha Djihanian played Alisa. That’s the second time this season that she has sung a mezzo role at COC. Enquiring minds want to know.
Stephen Lord was on the podium and conducted sympathetically. This is very much his territory and he knows how to help singers along. It’s almost, but not quite superfluous, to note the continuing excellence of the COC Orchestra and Chorus.
So, this may be one of those Alden productions one has to see twice to really get it (Christopher and David both do that and, heaven knows, we get enough opportunities to experience the phenomenon in Toronto) but I can’t see going again to a piece I’m not wildly enthusiastic about in a period where the calendar is filled with more interesting music than I can take in. But go see it and make your own mind up.
Performances continue until May 24th at the Four Seasons Centre.