Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 29
 
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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Music/Theater

Opera New Jersey Continues Season With Murderous, Thrilling, “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Nancy Plum

Before Law & Order, CSI, and Criminal Minds, there was opera. Some of the greatest fictional murders have taken place on the operatic stage throughout the centuries, and near the forefront of these homicide shockers would sure be Lucia’s killing of her forced-marriage spouse in Gaetano Donizetti’s 1935 opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Opera New Jersey presented its second performance of Lucia Saturday night at McCarter Theatre (the opera opened July 10) and although the production started off with a bit of “second performance-itis,” the show ended with the audience justifiably on its feet.

Donizetti based his seven-character opera on a novel by Sir Water Scott, also apparently based on an actual 17th century incident in which a bride attacked the husband she was forced to marry when she couldn’t marry the man she truly loved. Donizetti built his opera around a fiendish coloratura soprano role, in keeping with the bel canto style of singing enjoying its golden age in the beginning of the 19th century. Carrying on a tradition from Mozart and Rossini in which extreme coloratura signified youth, illness, or madness, Donizetti created a role in which the lead soprano can explore a range of psychotic behaviors and nuances while singing music in which purity of sound belies the heinous crime which has taken place. Donizetti also added a twist of ill-fated love in a ghostly scene of a young girl stabbed by her jealous lover; thus, Lucia felt she had no other fate.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” continues on Sunday July 26 at 2 p.m. at McCarter Theatre. Opera New Jersey’s other two productions for this season, “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” and “The Mikado” will be on July 24 and 25, respectively, also at McCarter Theatre. For information call (609) 258-2787.

Opera New Jersey’s production of Lucia in the Matthews Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center began with the original garden murder, and the ghost of the young girl crossed the stage from time to time to remind the audience of Lucia’s inevitable destiny. With the aid of Barry Steele’s lighting, the ghost cleverly “walked” across the stage during instrumental interludes, giving the audience some technical wizardry to watch in what otherwise might have been a dead spot. As Lucia, soprano Lisette Oropesa brought the innocence of a young teenager to a character whose fiery red hair made it clear she knew what she wanted. A graduate of Louisiana State University, Ms. Oropesa made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the 2007-2008 season and has since performed several times with the Met. Lucia’s first significant aria, sung in the ghostly garden to her companion, was presented by Ms. Oropesa with the giggliness of young love, crossed with the secretiveness of knowing she shouldn’t tell anyone about it. The cabaletta “Quando rapita in estasi” was the first sign of Ms. Oropesa’s coloratura capabilities, and from the outset, she handled the bel canto style well, especially floating notes above high “C.” Lucia had enough to do in the first two acts without having to switch gears completely in the third act and stop the action completely with the intense and demanding “Mad Scene.” In the wrong hands, this scene can become cliché-ish, but Ms. Oropesa was not afraid of the silences indicating complete breakdown and held both audience and the rest of the cast spellbound as she tried to explain her murderous actions. Ms. Oropesa presented a Lucia who was “mad” with innocence, overcome with puzzlement and unreasonable expectations that she would still end up with Edgardo. A solo flute (played by principal flutist Kathleen Nester) became part of Lucia’s delusion, and director John Hoomes took a slightly more violent approach to her “collapse” at the end of the scene. Lucia’s chosen beloved, Edgardo, was sung with effective drama by tenor Jonathan Boyd, a solid performer with international experience. Mr. Boyd kept the recitative-like portion of his dialogue moving along well and his role truly came to life with his second act aria when he realized Lucia had signed a wedding contract with someone else. Throughout the opera, Mr. Boyd and Ms. Oropesa sang their duets with good tandem phrasing and melodic line.

Baritone Eric Dubin, singing the role of Lucia’s brother Enrico, was expressive in his dialog with his sister and his quest to coerce her into a forced marriage, with especially clean rhythms in his second act aria, accompanied by equally as precise winds. The third principal character, the chaplain Raimondo, was well sung by an apparently ill Matthew Burns, who elected to sit out the difficult third act aria. Last minute substitute baritone Rubin Casas, a graduate of the Yale Opera Program, ably finished the show in this role.

Conductor Michael Ching led members of the New Jersey Symphony in a solid accompaniment of the opera. There were few instrumental solos, but when they occurred, they added dramatic effect, such as the cello melody (played by principal cellist Jonathan Spitz) which sent Edgardo’s soul to heaven with Lucia. Costume Designer Patricia Hibbert outfitted the cast in subdued Scottish costumes, and set designer Carey Wong created sufficiently gothic backgrounds to suit the story.

This second performance of Lucia got off to a bit of a rocky start in the lack of crispness in entrances and nicks of instrumental notes as they went by. However, the performance had well settled down by the second act, and Ms. Oropesa in particular had no trouble holding the stage while things settled in.

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