Lucia di Lammermoor by the Vancouver Opera

Music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, conducted by Steven White, directed by Pamela Berlin.


by J. H. Stape

Take star-crossed lovers and a family feud, followed by murder, madness, and suicide in quick succession. Add endless melodic inventiveness. Mix in plummy roles. Top off by two show stoppers-a sextet and a long, florid mad scene. It's hardly surprising that Lucia has remained a popular staple of the operatic repertoire since its opening night in Naples in 1835.

American lyric-coloratura Elizabeth Futral takes the title role in Vancouver Opera's 2000-2001 season opener, dominating this production from her first fear-tinged entrance to her frenzied collapse at the end of the famous mad scene. A melting beauty of tone, flawlessly controlled singing, and masterly acting place Futral's Lucia in a category where superlatives simply fail. More than shimmering high notes and gracefully modulated trills, even more than a voice like brightly burnished silver, her Lucia--affecting, lovingly detailed, and deftly controlled--is the creation of a singing-actress of the very first rank and begs comparison with the stellar circle of legendary sopranos: Callas, Sills, Sutherland.

Lucia could simply begin and end with its lead and might mostly get away with it, but Vancouver Opera's production boasts well taken supporting roles, and the keynotes of this staging, on loan from the Florida Grand Opera, are acting and ensemble work of a high order. John Fowler in the role of Edgardo, Lucia's hapless lover, ably partnered Futral, despite some effortful production in his opening and final scenes. Chinese baritone Zheng Zhou delivered a solid performance as Lucia's villainous brother Enrico. Not intrinsically beautiful, his dark-toned voice nonetheless ably conveyed the role's dramatic and vocal values. Gary Relyea's lush, capacious bass and masterly acting carried all before him in the role of Raimondo, conscience and father figure. Tenor Kurt Lehmann made a dashing swashbuckler of Arturo, bringing to the role of Lucia's bridegroom and husband generous voice and presence. In fine voice as Alisa, Grace Chan offered an intelligently sung and acted performance, and Marcel van Neer was a credible Normanno. Conductor Steven White elicited a warm, rich sound from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, at times giving a performance of white-heat intensity, particularly in the sextet and final scene.

Alas, the evening's only sour notes were the Florida Grand Opera's sets and the direction, both serviceable and conventional rather than inspired or challenging. The brooding gothicism and Caspar David Friedrich backdrop of the second scene worked well to suggest Lucia's high strung nature and the trouble to come, but the staging, visually handsome though it is, opts for the tried-and-true. Staid Metropolitan Opera-like conventions rule a score and libretto that bristle with hallucinatory possibilities and cry out for some of the experimental lighting and stage effects now common in European opera houses even in the standard repertoire.

Pamela Berlin's competent direction lacked an overarching concept. In a day of feminist awareness, it would seem axiomatic to challenge the audience to explore some of the score's sexual tensions. Many an opportunity went wanting, not least the hedging in of Lucia's sexuality by her power-and-money obsessed brother. On a more mundane note, more effective crowd control would have made the brilliantly costumed chorus, which sang well throughout, look a bit less like Birnam Wood shuttled on and off as required.

Cavils aside, this is a gloriously sung production, and beg, borrow, or steal a ticket to catch Futral in the title role.

Lucia di Lammermoor runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, at 8:00 p.m. sharp on 14, 17, 19, and 21 October. Tickets from $36.00 to $96.00 from all Ticketmaster outlets or by phone at (604) 280-3311. Rush tickets for students and seniors from $21.00 to $27.00 available one hour before curtain time on performance evenings at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Box Office.