Lucia di Lammermoor is as dark a tale as they come

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      A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on December 6. Continues until December 11

      The city may be enveloped in a blanket of seasonal cheer, but what unfolded on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage on Saturday night, just metres from the Glí¼hwein-swilling revellers at the Vancouver Christmas Market, was more the stuff of fitful nightmares than sugarplum-tinged reveries.

      A blood-soaked tale of betrayal, coercion, and madness, Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor is about as dark a tale as they come. Star-crossed lovers Lucia and Edgardo, from feuding aristocratic Scottish families, are torn apart by Lucia’s scheming brother Lord Enrico; to assure his grip on power, Enrico plants evidence of Edgardo’s unfaithfulness, and coerces Lucia into marrying Arturo, whom she murders in a whirling descent into insanity.

      With its signature coloratura soprano role, it’s a work that could easily lend itself to overwrought melodrama. But Amiel Gladstone’s careful, restrained direction in this Vancouver Opera production brought forth gut-wrenching performances from leads Eglise Gutiérrez and Michael Fabiano that were all the more sublime for their authenticity.

      The opera unfolded gently, ominously, on a set that resembled something from an M.?C. Escher print—the view is of a castle’s four walls as seen directly from the ground, as if from a grave, with the action taking place, surreally, on one of the walls. A few minimal furnishings and some evocative projections were all that was needed to create a moody, darkly brooding atmosphere.

      The buzz over this production will be replete with adulation for the young Cuban-born Gutiérrez, and deservedly so. Here is a singer blessed with a sumptuous, velvet soprano, matched by effortless control and flexibility. Gutiérrez delivered more than fluid, pitch-perfect vocal acrobatics: her Lucia was a portrait of a tremulous, sensitive creature pushed to her breaking point by grief, the increasingly florid lines of her coloratura marking her loosening grasp on reality in the famed mad scene. This she filled with such raw human emotion that it left the audience gasping.

      But lest Gutiérrez soak up all the attention, charismatic tenor Fabiano also deserves some high praise. At age 26 he already possesses an expressive, honey-gilded voice with acting chops to match. His portrayal of the lovelorn Edgardo was irresistible, and his earnest, aching final aria had many in the theatre welling up in sympathy. Impressive, too, was bass-baritone Burak Bilgili, whose sonorous tone and stage presence lent depth to his portrayal of the chaplain Raimondo. Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl, as Lucia’s self-interested brother Enrico, also turned in a solid performance.

      Vancouver Opera may have broken the bank on the genre-pushing Lillian Alling commission that preceded this production, but it will be the company’s Lucia di Lammermoor that we’ll still be talking about long after the eggnog’s been emptied and the New Year rung in.



      East Van Arts

      Dec 7, 2010 at 11:45am

      Permit me to offer another opinion.

      Eglise Guttiérez' vocal technique is reliable and exact in the domain of pitch. Her leaps, her capacity to land precisely, her almost inerrant accuracy is real and impressive. If she does not have absolute pitch, she's close.

      It is her diction that was so troublesome. For reasons known only to her, she chooses to sing with her lips pursed, her lower jaw clenched, and her mouth half-closed much of the time. This has the lamentable consequence of wrecking diction on shoals of mere prettiness. Clearly, she can do much better.

      By the end of the evening, she was practicing ventriloquism. Indeed, I (over)heard complaints about her audibility, and this was none the fault of conductor Darlington. It is the direct result of her half-mouth technique. With so many restrictions in her long vowels, she was unable to generate the overtones that add volume without stress.

      Fabiano and Dahl were much more successful in this regard, and less forced in consequence.

      The issue of good diction is bedrock. If we cannot hear the words -- vividly, distinctly -- why bother with a libretto? It could all be done with supertitles and oooh oooh oooh.

      Jim Ison

      Dec 9, 2010 at 11:28am

      I sat 6 rows from the back of the theatre and heard every word and every note. Our East Van critic may be a vocal coach?