Review: A Groundbreaking “Lucia” for Our Times

A scene from LA Opera's 2022 production of "Lucia di Lammermoor," with Amanda Woodbury as Lucia (seen on projection screen)

LA Opera’s audacious new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor rockets the Bel Canto masterpiece from 18th-century Scotland to a present-day town in the American Rust Belt that has seen better days and is on a steady course of decrepitude. The prolific Donizetti (1797–1848) composed about 75 operas as well as orchestral and chamber music in a career abbreviated by mental illness and premature death, and while much of his works virtually disappeared from the public eye after his demise, Lucia, making its debut in Naples in 1835, has remained one of the most beloved in the cannon.

Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Edgardo and Amanda Woodbury as Lucia in LA Opera’s 2022 production of “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Enrico (Alexander Birch Elliot, La Boheme, Carmen) killed the father of Edgardo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz, La Traviata, Rigoletto) who then swears revenge on the Ashton family until he falls in love with his foe’s sister, Lucia (Amanda Woodbury, Don Giovanni, The Marriage Of Figaro) in a tragic twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. When Lucia’s beloved, Edgardo is called away on service, her brother manipulates her into marrying the wealthy Arturo (Anthony Ciaramitaro) to save the family from financial ruin by lying to her about Edgardo’s unfaithfulness. Lucia, already fragile — as is cleverly indicated in a wink-and-you-miss moment of acquiring opioids from a pharmacy — quickly begins to lose her mind upon discovering the truth and murders her husband on their nuptial bed. This unraveling is depicted in the renowned “mad scene” with one of opera’s greatest arias, Il Dolce Suono Riso, performed heartbreakingly by Woodbury. Tenor, Chacon-Cruz and baritone, Birch Elliot are also in top form, injecting the passion of love and vengeance in their robust, no less demanding performances.

“(The director) must be commended for unleashing a visionary masterpiece, one that astutely reinforces how the mores of Donizetti’s time are still, sadly, prevalent.”

Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Edgardo and Alexander Birch Elliott as Enrico, with Resident Conductor Lina González-Granados in the orchestra pit conducting a rehearsal for LA Opera’s 2022 production of “Lucia di Lammermoor”

The challenges of this emotionally wrought opera are formidable, and the audiences are understandably weary of the trend of contemporizing classical works that often rob them of their richness and authenticity; which is why Australian theater and film director, Simon Stone (who directed 2021’s superb The Dig) must be commended for unleashing a visionary masterpiece, one that astutely reinforces how the mores of Donizetti’s time are still, sadly, prevalent. His version is also clearly a love letter to cinema, a symbiosis of art forms, which uses a large drive-in screen to flash scenes of Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in 1947’s My Favorite Brunette, as well as a video screen above the stage to convey not just the subtitles, but intimate close-ups that reveal nuances normally inaccessible to the audience, and even gives the members of the supernumerary (extras) some superbly juicy parts to enact, as with the gaggle of women who get into a brawl over recording the mayhem on the iphone. Blanca Anon’s costumes are a nod to the The Sopranos, but also Patrice Chereau’s brilliant La Reine Margot as with the blood soaked wedding dress. Lizzie Clachan’s scenery is loaded with meaning, like the names of businesses only half spelled out as a metaphor for lives that have been cut off from reaching full potential. And not least of all, as if contrasting with what might erroneously be perceived as an opera about feminine fragility, the opera was conducted by Linda Gozales-Granados, making her triumphant LA Opera debut.

— Victor Riobo / Dhalla

Lucia plays at LA Opera through October 9th . Tickets HERE.