Gaetano Donizetti - Lucia di Lammermoor
Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova - 2015
Giampaolo Bisanti, Dario Argento, Desirée Rancatore, Gianluca Terranova, Stefano Antonucci, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Alessandro Fantoni, Marina Ogii, Enrico Cossutta, Fabiola Di Blasi
Teatro San Felice Web Streaming - 21 February 2015
Although I'm not really familiar with his film work, I wouldn't have put the director Dario Argento down as a traditionalist as far as opera direction goes. And yet, there no question that his Lucia di Lammermoor for the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa is very much period in design and conventional in its adherence to the original stage directions. With one or two exceptions, there's little here that you wouldn't have seen in a production of this opera thirty years ago, but it's in those exceptions that we get a little of the personal touch of Dario Argento, without evidently taking it too far into extremes.
Let's not forget that Dario Argento is famous for his giallo thrillers - big gothic melodramas with much nudity and blood (to point out only the superficial characteristics of his films), so in that respect at least the Italian filmmaker's style is perfect for a torrid bel canto melodrama like Lucia di Lammermoor that is always verging on the edge of madness and eventually topples over into full-blown murderous insanity. So it's not surprising that the set cries out Gothic right from the start, with a night-time exterior of huge crumbling tower of Lammermoor castle and dead trees all silhouetted by a crescent moon. All that is missing is the rolling Scottish mists.
It's completely the way you expect Lucia di Lammermoor to look, and it's certainly functional for the stage directions, but there's little sign of any distinct character or directorial input at this stage. Costumes are mid-19th century (Donizetti period?) rather than 16th century, the ladies in flowing robes, the lords and gentlemen in greatcoats and hats that are at least heavy enough for the Scottish winter weather. Familiarity with the opera - or even the nature of the mood established - means that we know however that there's going to be madness, murder and blood to come, and you can expect Argento to make a little more of that. And you can probably count on some nudity as well...
...and indeed, the first sign that this wouldn't be a staging from 30 or 40 years ago comes in Act I when a pale, naked corpse arises out of the fountain during Lucia's recounting of the ghost story. It might be characteristic of the director - and there is more to come - but it's still hardly a radical reworking of Sir Walter Scott's drama. It's not as adventurous, for example, as updating the work to Kennedy-era USA, as in the production of Lucia di Lammermoor currently running in parallel in Munich. On the other hand, it's undoubtedly the ghost-story horror elements of the original work that appeal to Argento, so why not just let them work on their own terms, with perhaps just a little directorial emphasis?
And indeed, the naked woman is just such an indication of the director's intentions. She's more than just an apparition, she's more or less the personification of the madness that is already manifesting itself in Lucia's mind. Being forced into a marriage with Arturo for family and political reasons when she is in love with Edgardo, a hated rival to her family, this pressure just adds to Lucia's already fragile state. Mourning her dead mother, weighed down by sorrow and a deathly fear that grips her, you could even say that death stalks Lucia. Argento's direction certainly highlights that and it's clear that it's only going to take one final push to topple her over the edge. Madness and murder are sure to follow.
The naked ghost significantly makes an appearance again at the start of Act II, standing in for Lucia's appearance and palor, but she doesn't appear in Act III. She's perhaps not needed in the final Act, as by that stage Lucia is in full-blown madness, and Argento and the work itself have other characteristic ways of expressing that state. The obvious familiar one is Lucia's 'mad scene', where it's left to the soprano to express her derangement in improvised coloratura while covered in blood. It wouldn't be like Dario Argento however to let a murder take place off-stage, and consequently Lucia's brutal stabbing of Arturo takes place in a lightning-flash backstage reveal of their room during the wedding celebrations.
There's no question that this has all the desired impact and that it assists a role that Desirée Rancatore is stretched to fill. For the larger part of the work, Rancatore sings well - she has dramatic drive in her voice and a fine lyrical timbre, but she is pushed somewhat by the high notes and is unimaginative in the coloratura. As one of the most famous and challenging scenes in all opera, there are however few sopranos who can really make something of this nowadays. Whether her acting is up to it either or whether she just isn't given the necessary direction here, I couldn't say, but Argento's direction doesn't give the performers much to do but walk-on, stand and sing. The Wolf's Crag scene, for example, between Edgardo and Enrico is static and utterly lifeless, although admittedly that's an extreme example, an add-on while the set is prepared for the wedding scene.
Elsewhere the singing is good. Gianluca Terranova is outstanding as Edgardo, a classic Italian tenor with a strong lyrical, clear tone. Stefano Antonucci is mostly solid, authoritative and authoritarian as Enrico, although the voice is not always as lyrical and occasionally you notice the lack of musical and dramatic expression. Giovanni Battista Parodi - due to sing the role in later dates, but standing in for an indisposed Orlin Anastassov - also gave a good performance as Raimondo. The orchestra was conducted with genuine Romantic fervour by Giampaolo Bisanti, stirring up all the dramatic tension, yet full-bloodedly lyrical. Full-blooded is what you expect from Lucia di Lammermoor, and Argento - despite a small smattering of boos from the audience at the curtain call - certainly brought enough of that to the Genoa stage.
Another live streaming of Dario Argento's production of Lucia di Lammermoor, with the alternate cast, can be viewed on 28th February on the Teatro Carlo Felice website.
Links: Teatro Carlo Felice Streaming