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Lucia di Lammermoor

Los Angeles Opera

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Il dolce suono / mi colpì di sua voce.

Ah! quella voce m'è qui nel cor discesa!


The sweet sound of (her) voice

Ah, that voice pierces to the depths of my heart�


Now, given a choice among hearing a lyric coloratura of luminous, pure, and celestial vocalism; seeing a superb theatrical actress at the peak of her powers nailing every nuance while tearing up the stage in a riveting performance; or observing a young woman of radiant beauty cavort about in a thin nightdress, one might have pause. Yet here the answer is, of course, "all of the above" as Anna Netrebko gives yet another jaw-dropping performance, this time as the mad Lucy of the Lammermoors. But I am ahead of myself�

We arrived a bit early at the Chandler Pavilion, giving us enough time to check out the new Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall next door, as well as play with the four Irish Wolfhounds who would be performing supernumerary roles in the first scene of Lucia.

The hall itself is that gaudy moderne early-sixties too-many-chandeliers look; acoustics are adequate; the audience noisy. As the stage and backstage areas are small, long scene changes were necessitated, along with some horrid tapes of �Seagulls at the Seashore� honking at us during the breaks, where talking was not discouraged and moods were broken.

The scenery by and large was monochrome gray and lit by the same sight-impaired technician who gave us our recent Trovatore and Carlos. However, when there was a scene with good light, the contrast was stunning. In Enrico's study, as he was dressed in a rich red robe, silhouetted against the dramatic sky or sitting by a fireplace adorned with 36 large deer heads (akin to the �Skulls� exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences), the visuals were splendid. As was the moon-caught-in-the-branches-of-the-tree snowscape. Lots of rolling stage fog.

Costuming was a bit odd: Edgardo was in a tux, Arturo in a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-Tenor �do� and the chorus in various muted suits. Enrico and Lucia, by contrast, were in fine jewel tones throughout. It seems the director, Marthe Keller, a theatrical and film actress of some note, had never seen a chorus before. They were given to perform the most godawful ham-fisted unison hand gestures seen outside of a kindergarten pageant. This was surprising, as her direction of the principals and their interactions was, by and large, excellent.

Edgardo (José Bros) was a tenor of fine tone and musicality, although short enough to be dwarfed by most of the scenery, including an oversize chair which gave him an �Edith Ann� sort of look. Normanno (Javier Cortes) was thankfully inaudible given what we could hear, and had on a Sideshow Bob fright-wig. (At least, I hope it was a wig.) The bass, Raimondo (Vitaliz Kowaljow), was just another of those Russian splendors of stentorian tone. The chorus did not have the richness of blended tone I've grown used to at SFO; the orchestra (conducted by Jules Rudel) just fine.

As Enrico, baritone Franco Vassallo was a beacon of enchanting musicality and dramatic fire from the moment he walked onstage. Even though he was the “bad guy,” he certainly took the afternoon's (male) vocal honors. (In the duets, it reminded me of why I like Miss Netrebko in the Russian repertoire so much: her tone blends so beautifully with the baritones and basses which make up the heroes of Russian opera.) SFO: please take note. He's young, he's good looking, he's Italian, and he sings like a god.

Oh, yes, there was this soprano. My admiration for Miss N's many talents is not exactly a state secret, and it began when she opened her mouth to sing -- for the very first time outside her native Russia --about six feet from my ear (Ruslan and Lyudmilla, '95 of course). In the eight years since, she has done everything right and is now, at 32, poised to become the darling of the opera world. Rarely have such accolades been so well deserved.

In hearing her pitch-perfect and silvery pure renditions of the lyric and coloratura repertoire, one may forget what a formidable actress she is. Physically, in a manner akin to Fred Astaire "making the hat stand look good," she can wrap her arms around the stiffest tenor (that's in an acting sense, you pervs) and evoke Romance. Her unforgettable rendering of the "mad scene," so often done at full gallop, was a coup de théâtre with a rich palette of shades of emotion and laser focus, and her earlier contribution to the Sextet had left one drained.

I will soon run out of adjectives for this exhilarating, miraculous talent.

Lucia plays through December 20th. Go!

And check out Anna's official or her aficionado's websites for more doings.

Buy her new CD - at least you can taste Lucia, as the scena and cavatina "Ancor non giunse! ... Regnava nel silenzio" (Act I, scene II - the fountain) can be heard. By the way, the epigraph at the top of this review is the very beginning of her "mad scene" (with gender changed.)

- Mark Burstein