Almanac

Arts & Entertainment - February 13, 2013

West Bay Opera stages melodic but gripping 'Lucia'

by Mort Levine

Gaetano Donizetti was at the apex of his brilliant composing career in the 1830s when he penned a magnificent bel canto tragic opera, "Lucia di Lammermoor," which has become one of the most performed works in the entire operatic repertory. Our plucky regional company, West Bay Opera, is mounting a new production. It is the fourth Lucia in its half-century history.

Artistic Director Jose Luis Moscovich has assembled a remarkably strong cast for four performances on Feb. 15, 17, 23 and 24 at Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Theatre.

The opera is based on a romantic Walter Scott novel. The composer demonstrates his facile ways with melody, but also uses the music to project the dread and gloom of the tragic tale, including ancient ruins, secret love trysts and deceptive plots, not to mention murder, madness and suicide. But not to worry. There are also rollicking choruses, melodious arias and ensembles with great contrasts and pyrotechnics.

Most opera-goers identify "Lucia" with one of the greatest mad scenes in all of opera, which proved a magnet for some of the top bel canto coloratura sopranos. Lucia has been portrayed by Lily Pons, Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, Renata Scotto, Beverly Sills and Anna Moffo, just to drop a few names.

But the opera is also a treat for those who love the tenor voice. Lucia's lover Edgardo's suicide to end the opera is one of the rare and best death scenes ever for romantic tenors. Completing the classic triangle is, of course, the villainous Enrico, Lucia's brutal, conniving brother.

The cast is led by Rochelle Bard, who has sung the Lucia role twice before. She delighted West Bay audiences last fall with her portrayals of the four diverse loves in Offenbach's masterpiece, "Tales of Hoffmann." Ms. Bard has a unique lyrical gift of finesse, subtlety and perfect command. One critic acclaimed her ability to bring out the character's psychological undoing: "The mad scene duet with its haunting flute accompaniment was fluid, precisely etched and with a haunting sense of vulnerability."

Tenor Vincent Chambers, singing Edgardo, is a character in his own right. Called the "Flying Tenor," he pilots himself about the West buying and selling pianos. An active blogger on opera subjects, he also has won prizes for his vocalizing, especially in "meaty" roles like the duke in "Rigoletto," Canio in "Pagliacci," and the Steuermann from "The Flying Dutchman."

Krassen Karagiozov, a solid Verdi baritone and four-year veteran of Opera San Jose, is taking the Enrico role that has been sung by most of the fabled baritones.

The love affair between Lucia and Edgardo is bitterly opposed by her brother Enrico, who wants to marry her off to a wimpy Arturo (sung by Delmar McComb) to enable the cad to regain his family's estate. He leads her to believe Edgardo has found another love and forces the marriage to Arturo. Edgardo arrives just after Lucia has signed the marriage contract, which leads to the famous sextet.

Six of the characters each go into their own private reveries while singing one of the most tuneful of opera ensembles. Opera San Jose veteran bass Isaiah Musik-Ayala sings Raimondo, the chaplain, and Katia Hayati sings the faithful Alisa.

Veteran conductor Michel Singher conducts the WBO orchestra. Another longtime company alumnus, David Ostwald, directs.

The final act has Lucia murder her new husband, then stagger into madness and death. Edgardo, discovering the tragic episode, bids her a long, passionate farewell and stabs himself, singing to the last.

This work is very much of its early 19th century zeitgeist. Touching, pathetic, but never jarring or discordant. It captures a unique aspect of the evolution of opera and it has continued to charm us for 178 years.

PERFORMANCES

"Lucia di Lammermoor" is presented by West Bay Opera on Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m., and Sundays, Feb. 17 and 24, at 2 p.m. in the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. Tickets: $40-$75. Call (650) 424-9999 or visit WBOpera.org.

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