April 12, 2017

Boheme Opera Company Presents Lively Performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor”

At the time Gaetano Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor, opera was a major form of entertainment in Italy. Composers were masters of melodies, and people expected to hear heroic tenors, virtuosic sopranos, and great Romantic love stories. Lucia di Lammermoor did not disappoint in its original Naples premiere, and this past weekend’s production by Boheme Opera NJ captured the opera’s musical flavor, combined with a hi-tech set design that Donizetti could never have imagined. 

Boheme Opera’s performance on Friday night at The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Main Stage Theater (the performance was repeated Sunday afternoon) included a cast of young dynamic singers, seasoned performers with leading opera companies worldwide, and artists working their way up through the Boheme Opera performance roster. Boheme Opera has a long history of providing regional singers with performance opportunities and it was clear from this production that these singers have retained a strong commitment and sense of loyalty to the company.

Lucia di Lammermoor, based on a book by Sir Walter Scott, takes place in Scotland, and Boheme Opera’s production opened with the sound of the wind off the Scottish moors and a digital representation of Lord Enrico Ashton’s castle, designed by virtual set artist and designer J. Matthew Root. The role of Enrico was sung by baritone Daniel Sutin, a 17-year veteran of Boheme Opera who has recently sung a title role at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Sutin possesses a huge voice, clearly a cut above the traditional regional opera performer. His presence onstage was formidable, and his vocal strength was further evidenced by his ability to fit into the duets and trios within the opera, especially the renowned “Sextet” which closed Act II.

For decades after the premiere of this opera, the role of Lucia was perceived as a vehicle for sopranos to demonstrate vocal fireworks and dexterity, but as a character, Lucia is so much more. Soprano Dana Pundt, a young award-winning singer who clearly has a great future, found a wide range of facial and emotional expressions in her portrayal of this character, whose dramatic problems seemed to stem from her overly-interfering brother Enrico using her for his own financial gain. Ms. Pundt immediately demonstrated a solid command of the role and its vocal range, showing particular richness in the very high soprano register. Ms. Pundt was also able to sing gracefully, especially in the ornamented second verse of her “Fountain” aria “Quando rapita in estasi” in which she declared her love for Edgardo. Her early arias were elegantly accompanied by harpist Elaine Christy playing in an offstage alcove, a staging that added to the refinement as the audience was often only able to see Ms. Christy’s hands on the harp strings.

The showcase of the role of Lucia, as well as that of the opera itself, is the Act II “Mad Scene,” which revolves around Lucia as she copes with having slain the man her brother had arranged for her to marry. One could see bits of potential madness earlier in the opera, but Lucia’s descent came to full fruition as Ms. Pundt entered the stage in a gown covered in blood and nonchalantly sat at the dinner table to help herself to a meal. Unconventionally, the staging of this scene did not include the knife Lucia used as a murder weapon, but Ms. Pundt did not need props as she used the whole stage to baffle the incredulous crowd with a portrayal that looked right out of the worst of 17th century mental bedlam.

Tenor Todd Wilander sang the role of Edgardo, Lucia’s love interest, with clear control over the role. Also a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Wilander could easily hold his own vocally against the full orchestra, telling the story well and providing a strong vocal lead with Ms. Pundt and Mr. Sutin. His vocal strength was most apparent in the closing of Act III, in which he carried the scene almost single-handedly.

The principal cast was rounded out by bass Martin Hargrove as Raimondo, a character who protected Enrico well, and was often the voice of reason trying to bring calm to a scene. Mr. Hargrove sang with a clean bass sound, especially rich in the lower register, and was crisp in the recitative sections. Soprano Rachel Cetel provided a vocally sound companion to Lucia in the character of Alisa, matching Ms. Pundt well in the “Fountain” scene duets. Conductor Joseph Pucciatti led an orchestra that accompanied the singers well, even if a bit rough on its own interludes. A chorus prepared by Brittany Montoro sang especially fully when toward the front of the stage, but like some of the principal singers, was hard to hear when placed too far back on the stage.

Boheme Opera NJ is celebrating its 28th season of presenting opera in the region. Given how singers who have been with the company and gone on to great things and have returned to perform for Mercer County audiences, it is clear that artistic loyalty is alive and well in this opera company.