Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor
Lucia – Annick Massis
Edgardo – Celso Albelo
Enrico – Ivan Thirion
Raimondo – Roberto Tagliavini
Arturo – Pietro Picone
Alisa – Alexise Yerna
Normanno – Denzil Delaere
Chœurs de l’Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal de Wallonie / Jesús López Cobos.
Stage director – Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera
Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège. Sunday, November 22nd, 2015.
Having in the last year had the pleasure of seeing shows in Brussels and Ghent, today I had the pleasure of visiting the other major Belgian lyric theatre, the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège. Located as it is at the crossroads of three European countries, one hears French, Dutch and German throughout the corridors of the house and surtitles are offered in all three languages. This was my first visit to this beautiful theatre and, newly refurbished, it is a handsome venue indeed. Seating just over 1000 spectators, it has a wonderfully warm acoustic and seems to be, at least from where I was sitting, especially singer-friendly. I was received with the most cordial of welcomes from everyone from the ushers to the fellow audience members. I really felt at home, and indeed was made to feel at home, in the house and it is certainly a most agreeable place to see a show.
This production of Lucia was the work of Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera who is the General Director of the company. In his detailed program note he wrote about how he had clearly thought about the setting and the relationship between the libretto and the original novel. This was a very classic staging – one where the gentlemen wore tartan kilts and the ladies long, flowing dresses. There was a lot of standing and delivering and a fair bit of falling to the floor with Enrico in particular seeming to have a thing for pushing other characters to the floor. There was one very striking moment where Lucia at the start of her mad scene appears carrying Arturo’s severed head which she then tosses nonchalantly to the crowd. Personenregie seemed rudimentary, the Act 2 finale was basically sung with everyone facing the front and characters addressed the front as often as they addressed each other. For a new production, it looked much older than it was and yet ultimately perhaps that was the point. Mazzonis di Pralafera clearly wanted to prioritize the singing, and we certainly had some excellent singing, it’s just that for me, I would have liked to have had much more urgency in the acting and the setting. This is a story of extreme passion and I’m not quite convinced we got a full sense of that.
Certainly the conducting, like so many other examples of bel canto conducting I have heard, privileged the beauty of the line. Jesús López Cobos gave us a leisurely amble through the score securing some fine playing from the excellent house band and some extremely enthusiastic and ardent singing from the admirable chorus. It’s just that, as with the staging, I missed a sense of an exciting story pushing its way to its inevitably grisly end. He was definitely more than supportive of his singers and he gave them exactly the space they needed to work their magic. The mad scene benefitted from the contribution of the glass harmonica player whose ethereal presence was more than felt – indeed, in the way he echoed Lucia’s cadenza, the playing was actually quite virtuosic.
I had the pleasure of seeing Annick Massis as La Sonnambula in Ghent almost a decade ago and shamefully I haven’t seen her in anything Italian since then. Hers is a very unique voice – like a Belgian witbier it has this fascinating combination of chalkiness with the added tanginess of lemon. She has a phenomenal top that is used absolutely effortlessly, adding so many interpolated acuti and holding onto them in the most remarkable way. Yet she also has this ability to phrase exactly the kind of lines that the music requires and truly brings out the lyricism in the role. In the past I have found her intonation to be variable, not so today, every single note was hit head on and with the utmost dedication. Her coloratura is fluent and her trill is there. The cadenza in the mad scene was highly striking yet away from the fireworks she also gave us a wonderfully poised ‘regnavi nel silenzio’. This was a highly impressive assumption of the role
Massis was joined by Alexise Yerna’s big and bold mezzo as Alisa. She sings a lot of French repertoire but I couldn’t help but think she’d make a decent Waltraute. In the supporting cast we also had the exciting young tenor of Denzil Delaere with a distinctive spiciness in the voice. Celso Albelo’s Edgardo at first sounded stiff and rigid, initially seemingly unwilling to manipulate the line to make the notes more than dots on the page. His voice is a good size with a top that opens up well but he does have a tendency to sit on the underside of the note. Then, in his final scene something happened. Whereas before the line was rigid, he started singing with increased freedom, phrasing his music with love and affection, the top gleaming, the tessitura holding no terrors. There’s certainly a lot of promise there and I hope that he can develop his phraseology and tighten up on the intonation with time.
Two singers really struck me as having major potential and are ones to watch. The Belgian baritone, Ivan Thirion was recently appointed as one of the Salzburg Festival’s young artists. Here was a singer with genuine musical instincts, an easy line and a voice with serious potential. It’s a good-sized baritone with solid resonance and carries well. The registers aren’t yet completely integrated – the top is slightly disconnected to the rest – but he’s young and this can be worked on. Then there was Roberto Tagliavini’s Raimondo, make a note of this name because this gentleman has a major instrument. His bass has fabulous sheen, glorious amplitude and staggering ease of production. The very bottom on the voice is slightly dry but it’s such a warm, all-enveloping sound that it’s hard not to be won over. He is a singer I would actively seek out to hear again. He’s also very young and that voice is likely to bloom magnificently.
Today was definitely all about the singing. The staging offered little in terms of new insights but it certainly told the story. We had a stupendous assumption of the title role, a tenor with much to offer and some very exciting new artists. The theatre itself is a jewel and the quality of the house band and chorus more than respectable. Certainly I very much hope to be back soon.