Deep in Act II of Donizetti’s opera “Lucia di Lammermoor,” the desperate and doomed title character, deserted by everyone she has trusted and about to be married against her will, cries out that even the ability to weep has left her. “My own tears have abandoned me,” she pathetically laments.
Since Natalie Dessay, playing Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, had not up to that point in the opera appeared to weep, or indeed to look more than perturbed and a little put out, this heartbreaking moment made little sense, and passed unnoticed.
In this revival of Mary Zimmerman’s grayly atmospheric production, there is an empty space where Lucia ought to be. Not that there’s not a soprano onstage, and a redoubtable one, in Ms. Dessay, returning to the company after a two-year absence. Her cool voice has thinned a bit, but it still impresses in coloratura and rises to the score’s climactic moments. The issue is not the voice so much as what that voice should serve: the character.
Ms. Dessay and Ms. Zimmerman have clearly, carefully considered every motion (the soprano’s physical performance Thursday was essentially identical to the one she gave in 2007, when the production was new) and the result is a Lucia almost entirely blank. The main consideration seems to have been avoiding going over the top, being too “operatic.” But in this version, Lucia — that supremely expressive Romantic character, the one who weeps, swoons, trembles and is often, as the libretto describes, simply “beside herself with misery and fear” in a work dominated by passions and blood — is so internal that the audience perceives her only as indifferent and detached.
With an eye, perhaps, to its growing live simulcast audiences, the Met’s recent productions can seem directed at the camera rather than the audience in the theater. Ms. Dessay’s performance suggests as much. Her little fidgets, eye motions and twitches around the mouth register in the high definition of extreme movie theater close-ups, but they disappear in the opera house, along with our interest. By the time she delivers a fine, tensely eerie mad scene, the stakes of the drama — that queasy, distinctively operatic blend of empathy for and exhilaration over the heroine’s degradation — are almost entirely forfeit.
With a thoroughly vacant Lucia, the opera is imbalanced: the men, perversely, are the sympathetic ones here, down to the crisp conducting of Patrick Summers. The manipulative brother Enrico, sung richly and acted with laconic ruefulness by Ludovic Tézier, seems almost reasonable in his heartless demands. Kwangchul Youn had burnished tone and great dignity as the well-meaning chaplain Raimondo. Even Arturo, the arranged husband Lucia murders, was charming as sung by the young tenor Matthew Plenk.
And Joseph Calleja was sensationally ardent as Lucia’s lover, Edgardo, one of the best roles of his young, exciting Met career. In so many productions, the tomb scene that ends the opera seems hopelessly anticlimactic after Lucia’s unraveling, but in this performance Donizetti’s structure finally made sense. It felt more like Edgardo’s tragedy than Lucia’s, so why not let him have the last, gorgeously eloquent word?Continue reading the main story
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