Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the most popular of all operas. It’s a prime example of the Italian bel canto tradition—lovely melodies with plentiful opportunities for the singers to toss off high notes and embellish them with ornamentation.
Christofer Macatsoris, music director of the Academy of Vocal Arts, has led this opera many times. Yet, in the seventh decade of his career, he has adopted a new approach. His interpretation now seems more aligned with the dark and somber Scottish atmosphere of Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, which was the basis for Donizetti’s opera.
In the novel, Lucie Ashton pairs up with the nobly born but since dispossessed Edgar Ravenswood. However, the Ravenswoods and the Ashtons, who now own the former Ravenswood lands, are enemies. In order to save the family from bankruptcy and ruin, Lucie must break her engagement to Edgar and marry wealthy Sir Arthur Bucklaw. In the opera, those characters are named Lucia, Edgardo, and Arturo.
Nic Muni’s staging revives the importance of these feuding clans’ machinations. He uses dark sets with walls covered by ancestral portraits. He also changes the usual portrayal of Lucia’s older brother Enrico as the villain who forces her into a loveless marriage. Muni’s direction reminds us of the family disaster that looms and makes us realize why Enrico pressures his sister. He is a conflicted character. Arturo becomes the real villain, taking advantage of the Ravenswood family and disrespecting Lucia; small wonder she stabs him to death on their wedding night.
Macatsoris’s musical interpretation matches perfectly with Muni’s. The high notes remain, but they serve a tale that’s much more than a love story or a showpiece for voices. His tempos are slower than in all past performances. Singers and orchestra hold each note fractionally longer than before and give the notes more weight, reflecting the gloomy drama. The orchestra sounds darker, with special emphasis from the bassoons and horns.
Lucia’s mad scene (Il dolce suono, spargi d’amaro pianto) soars as it should, and the soprano sings her trills sparklingly, but its emphasis is more on drama than spectacle. The musical centerpiece in this production becomes the sextette (Chi mi frena in tal momento) before the mad scene, in which each character expresses their conflicted feelings. The characters sing sotto voce, in whispers, because they reflect inwardly, not directing their words to anyone else.
In all previous productions, Lucia does not appear after the mad scene. Edgardo has the last scene to himself and, in the middle, learns she’s dead. Here, that final scene occurs on a divided stage. On the right stands Edgardo; on the left, Lucia’s castle, where she lies dying. We watch her expire while Enrico grieves over her body, and Edgardo bursts into the room as the curtain falls.
This production uses multiple casts during its run. At the show I attended, Meryl Dominguez played Lucia and Mackenzie Gotcher played Edgardo. Both are relatively new artists at AVA but have solid, mature voices. They thrilled, as did the leads the last time AVA did Lucia, in 2008, with Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano, who are both now stars at the Met. Baritone Jared Bybee, who has headlined many AVA productions, made a standout Enrico. Roy Hage, a transfer from the Curtis Institute, sang the secondary tenor role of Arturo with a first-class voice.