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Romantic Love?

'Lucia di Lammermoor' at English National Opera,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


London has not done very well by Lucia di Lamermoor in recent years. The Royal Opera House kept its Visconti staging till it was well past its sell-by date, eventually replacing it with the rather grim Christoph Loy production. English National Opera simply ignored the opera and has only now produced its first staging of it, directed by David Alden. In fact, ENO has largely ignored pre-Verdian serious Italian opera. (If I'm not mistaken, the company's contribution in the last few decades would seem to run only to Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Rossini's Moses.)

What Alden and Loy have in common is an apparent discomfort with the underlying Romantic premise of the opera. Donizetti and his librettist, Cammarano, give Lucia and Edgardo no real big Romantic scena to introduce their love -- we meet them when he is bidding her goodbye. Their relationship must be taken on trust -- we must believe Lucia is devoted to the Romantic ideal. Both Lucia and Edgardo eventually lose themselves to the ideal of Romantic Love.

There is very little sub-plot (or sub-text for that matter), so contemporary producers have a difficulty if they abandon the idea of Romantic Love. In his new production, which premièred on Saturday 16 February 2008 at the London Coliseum, David Alden replaces Romantic Love with infantilism and cruelty.

Charles Edwards' set makes Ravenswood look like one of the crumbling institutional buildings pictured in the programme book, as if the Ashton family were living in a decaying mental institution. Though Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes are mid 19th century, they are uniformly grey. Edwards' sets are black, white and grey and the house lacks any soft furnishings; Lucia lives in a grim world.

In the first scene, Mark Stone made a very strong impression as Lucia's brother, Enrico. Stone has a powerful baritone voice, which he uses well, and a fine sense of Donizetti's vocal line. I hope we can hear him in more of this period of music. He manages to combine power and expressiveness within the dictates of Donizettian style.

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Copyright © 20 February 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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