Living Bel Canto: Lucia di Lammermoor at the Bayerische Staatsoper

Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor

Enrico – Dalibor Jenis
Lucia – Jessica Nuccio
Edgardo – Charles Castronovo
Raimondo – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Arturo – Galeano Salas
Alisa – Rachael Wilson
Normanno – Dean Power

Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Oksana Lyniv.
Stage director – Barbara Wysocka

Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich.  Friday, October 21st, 2016.

Tonight was a revival of Barbara Wysocka’s 2015 production with an almost entirely new cast and was in every way superior to the London Royal Opera’s recent stab at the work.  It had obviously been cast with care in an intelligent staging.  The common link to both productions was Charles Castronovo’s Edgardo and tonight also gave me the opportunity to hear Jessica Nuccio who very much impressed me in a Turandot in València a few years ago.

Wysocka’s staging, updated to the 1960s, made for compelling viewing.  Set in a decrepit grand ballroom, the idea of Lucia’s marriage to Arturo as a way of restoring family glory I found a particularly pertinent one.  Wysocka nicely compared the high society of the Ashton family with Edgardo’s status as an outsider – while the Ashtons and associates were dressed in suits and formal wear, Edgardo appeared driving a large automobile and costumed like Danny from Grease in a leather jacket, jeans and white t-shirt.  I felt that the production managed to illustrate Lucia’s desire to escape from the straightjacket of her arranged marriage most successfully; especially so, when we saw Lucia introduced to Arturo for the first time in front of the assembled crowd, her devastation and unwillingness to go ahead was most effectively portrayed.  Yet for Wysocka, Lucia isn’t a passive participant, she has genuine agency.  The mad scene saw her threatening the wedding guests with a gun, she was very much in control of the situation and as a result a much stronger character than we might have been used to in the past.

There were a few things that did not quite convince though.  I’m not sure I got the significance of the young girl who appeared at various times during the show – was she a younger Lucia? Or the daughter of Lucia and Edgardo’s liaison?  I found that it added an additional layer that didn’t quite work when the remainder of the narrative was so convincing.  Wysocka also had the characters genuinely engaging with each other and using the full area of the stage.  However, while I am grateful that she used her singers to power the narrative ahead rather than simply parking them at the front, there were balance issues since Nuccio’s Lucia isn’t the largest voice to have essayed the role.  There were certainly times where she was lost in the balance but despite that, she did give an enormous amount of pleasure.

The Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper in Barbara Wysocka's staging of Lucia di Lammermoor © Wilfried Hösl
The Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper in Barbara Wysocka’s staging of Lucia di Lammermoor © Wilfried Hösl

What was notable about Nuccio’s Lucia is that she made the music and the character so much more than a sequence of altitude-defying peaks, although the peaks were most certainly there with the voice opening up thrillingly at the top and offering us some wonderful theatre-filling acuti.  Her ‘il dolce suono’ was really quite remarkable – she found an extraordinary array of colours, from sensuousness to hope to regret in the line through her native attention to the text.  Her duet with the glass harmonica, the voice taking on that exact same glassy colour, was utterly compelling.  She has a genuine trill, turns the corners nicely but there is a tendency for aspirates to enter her legato in places.  I have no doubt that Nuccio will grow even further into the part and she is already an excellent exponent of the role.

I mentioned when I saw Castronovo’s Edgardo earlier this year that I had a slight feeling that he was still working the role into the voice.  Tonight, he was in total command of his instrument.  The sound itself is so glamorous and so Italianate with a fullness and roundness that feels so well matched to this music and used with the utmost musicality and stylishness.  His final scene, coming at the end of a big sing showed all that is great about his artistry – the ability to seamlessly fill out a hairpin or to file the voice right down to a perfectly supported pianissimo was most certainly in evidence.

Likewise, Dalibor Jenis was an excellent Enrico.  He was also so completely musical and his ornamentation in his ‘la pietade in suo favore’ was extremely welcome and genuinely enhanced the line.  The voice is completely even from cutting top to full and resonant bottom, easily produced with a fine legato.  Most impressive.  Alexander Tsymbalyuk has to be the owner of one of the most beautiful bass voices out there today.  Having not heard him for a while I was struck by how much the voice has grown and filled out, yet that velvety warmth that is his trademark is still very much present.  The remaining roles were well taken justifying this house’s exalted reputation from Dean Power’s energetic Normanno to Rachael Wilson’s elegant Alisa.

The other big success of the evening for me was Oksana Lyniv’s conducting.  Right from the opening measures it was clear that Lyniv understands how this music should go.  Everything was lovingly phrased with full attention paid to the tempo markings in the score.  Rhythms were nicely springy and she was always supportive to her colleagues on stage.  If there was one thing that wasn’t quite successful it was that occasionally she let the forward tension sag slightly when pulling the band back to let Nuccio through but that’s something that could have been avoided had the placement of the singers on stage been adjusted slightly.  Lyniv also elicited some splendid playing from that excellent orchestra and believe me I have heard them have some less than stellar evenings.  The brass were on good form, string intonation was first-rate and the solo clarinet in particular was wonderfully haunting.  The chorus also had a very good night singing with good blend and fine amplitude.

What distinguished tonight was that it was very much a performance that lived.  Not only did we have singing that was genuinely bel canto but it was framed by a staging that was about real flesh and blood personalities combined with a believable and gripping storyline.  This succeeded in making this Lucia something more than just a succession of high notes into a real, living story.  It was also very well sung, conducted and played.  Indeed, for those three hours it really felt that the people we were watching were the only ones in the world who could sing their roles.  This really was a superb evening in the theatre.

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