Who would have thought that an evening of love, ambition, betrayal, violence, and death could be so enjoyable? That is precisely what last night’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor at The Catholic University of America was – enjoyable. Gaetano Donizetti’s macabre opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor (a twisted Romeo and Juliet story) was performed by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at the Hartke Theater.
Maestro Simeone Tartaglione conducted a moving rendition of the score. His sensitive interpretation of the music transported those in attendance to the turbulent world at the Lammermoor castle. The emotional intensity of the Act II sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento,” was matched by the orchestral brilliance. Nonetheless, this bel canto opera is truly a “singer’s work,” and rarely is such a splendid cast of principal singers seen at the university level (it is a shame that they were not playing for a full house). In an opera such as this, it is the leading roles that make or break the show.
Lord Enrico Ashton, sung with a commanding stage presence by Jaenam Lee, aptly expressed the characteristic aloofness of Lucia’s brother. His baritone voice exhibited a supple quality in his duet with Lucia, “Il pallor funesto.” Kevin Johnson too, as the chaplain Raimondo, demonstrated a rich bass tone in “Dalle stanze ove Lucia.” For the most part, both produced a very focused and unyielding sound. Caitlin Ross and Ryan Slattery both gave admirable performances in their supporting roles as Alisa and Normanno respectively.
All this being said, the performances by Molly Allen (Lucia) and Matthew White (Edgardo) truly stole the show. As the seemingly-spurned lover, and after a timid start in Act I, White sang with tremendous clarity and strength his final aria, “Fra poco a me ricovero.” Likewise, his moving performance in Act II, as he curses Lucia, demonstrates a mature and vibrant voice.
For an opera which hangs essentially on the shoulders of one woman, Allen gave a remarkable and believable performance as Lucia. During the unfolding of the opera, a full-flourishing of her vocal capabilities became evident, as one heard the resonant force of her voice. There is one word to describe her coloratura lines – effortless. Every high note was stunning, especially at the end of Act II. As an actress, her mad-scene was mesmerizing, but equally so her performance in the Act II sextet. She clearly depicted one who is bewildered by the abhorrent events that have thus transpired.
Director James Hampton transported the audience to an Elizabethan world in which family honor supersedes true love. The innovative set design by Daniel Conway, Tyler Herald and Richard Ouellett, was a fusion between a minimalist studio loft and a traditional Japanese house with sliding partitions. These luminescent walls could then be transformed by Alberto Segarra’s lighting, most notably to bright red for Lucia’s mad-scene (giving the impression of a thoroughly blood-soaked room). The long platform and staircase allowed for a creative, multi-dimensional use of the stage throughout the performance. The harmonious addition of Tudor-style costumes (Glenn A. Breed) and furnishings presented a traditional image of the opera.
The audience’s response to the entire performance was palpable. The standing ovation at the end was well-deserved, as well as the eruption of applause following many of the scenes. Catholic University’s music school truly staged an entertaining night at the opera. The final two performances, tonight and tomorrow are not to be missed!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
About the author: Natalie Barsoum
Natalie Barsoum is currently a graduate student in musicology at the Catholic University of America. She received a B.M. and M.M. in vocal performance from CUA, where she performed leading roles in several operas, Giulietta in I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, Monica in The Medium, and Kassandra in Agamemnon. She also studied at the Eastman School of Music, and has performed with Summer Opera Theater and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Young Artist Vocal Program. She has also performed sacred music throughout the Washington, D.C. area.