Gruesome Wedding: Lucia di Lammermoor from the Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia – Sara Blanch
Edgardo – Celso Albelo
Enrico – Ernesto Petti
Raimondo – Michele Pertusi
Arturo – David Astorga
Alisa – Natalia Gavrilan
Normanno – Matteo Mezzaro

Coro del Teatro Massimo, Orchestra del Teatro Massimo / Roberto Abbado.
Stage director – Ludovico Rajata.  Video director – Antonio Di Giovanni.

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy.  Saturday, May 22nd, 2021. Streamed via the Teatro Massimo’s website.

Tonight’s semi-staging of Lucia di Lammermoor marked a very happy moment for the Teatro Massimo.  It marked the first return of a live audience to this magnificent house, since the Don Giovanni I had the pleasure of seeing there last fall.  Fortunately, for those of us unable to deplace ourselves to Sicily, they also broadcast the show on their website, giving us the opportunity to hear the cast made up of Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Costa Rican and Moldovan principals, under the direction of Roberto Abbado. 

I must admit it was wonderful to hear a live audience applauding after each number, after spending so many of the last months watching shows produced without any kind of audience reaction.  Of course, we’re immensely grateful to those houses, including this one, who kept the light on for artists and audiences in the darkest of days, but hopefully this will now mark the start of a return to a relative normality – at least in Europe.  Naturally, given the current sanitary regulations in place in the Italian Republic, this was a slightly different semi-staging to usual.  Principals continued to keep distance from each other, the chorus was arranged in rows at the back of the stage similarly distanced, while the orchestra took up half of the platea.  The cast was costumed in some traditional-looking costumes (William Orlandi) in this mise-en-espace credited to Ludovico Rajata.  There isn’t too much to say about the staging as such.  Cast members certainly engaged with each other while maintaining distance, but there was a considerable amount of singing to the front with stock operatic gestures and hands outstretched.  The chorus sang with scores, overlooking the action.  A single wooden unit, served as both a chair for Enrico to emerge from in the opening, and as lectern upon which Lucia signed the marriage contract.  While in the closing scene, Edgardo sang next to what appeared to be a monumental tomb.  Otherwise, it was efficiently produced, the principals were moved around fluently and it was a step up from a regular concert, if significantly less than a staged performance.  That said, in the current circumstances, this was a lot more than one might have expected.  Antonio Di Giovanni’s camerawork captured the performance well, although there was a distracting tendency to move to shots of Abbado with frequency, when one might have preferred to continue to watch the stage. 

Particularly so, as I found Abbado’s conducting to be somewhat disappointing.  He very much emphasized the lyricism of the work, though often to the detriment of the drama, with long sculpted orchestral lines and a big, bulky orchestral sound, while lacking in rhythmic impetus.  Phrasing seemed either over-manicured or prosaic.  Tempi were on the slow side, with ‘Quando rapito in estasi’ seemingly grinding to a halt.  That said, Abbado might have had an espresso at intermission because the Wolf’s Glen scene was injected with the kind of energy lacking elsewhere.  The Massimo orchestra played decently for him, the odd isolated patch of scrappy string playing or brass splits notwithstanding.  Sascha Reckert’s glass harmonica added an appropriately ghostly pallor to the texture.  Ciro Visco’s chorus sang lustily and enthusiastically – and there’s nothing quite like hearing an Italian chorus really go for it in this music.

Sara Blanch took the title role.  The Tarragona-born soprano studies with Mariella Devia and it shows in an exceptional technique that gives her all of the bel canto tools at her disposal – an impeccable legato, a genuine trill, and impressive breath control that allows her to spin seemingly endless lines.  Her soprano is bright and crystalline, and the acuti are easy and hit without a hint of strain.  She did make some effort to colour the tone in the mad scene, those repeated cries of ‘il fantasma’ showed a daring use of a full-blooded chestiness.  Elsewhere, I found her phrasing rather generalized and lacking in the ultimate degree of individuality, particularly in ‘regnava nel silenzio’, where I longed for her to really vary the tone, to colour the phrasing, and to make it even more believable.  That said, Blanch is a major talent, she’s already a very impressive technician, and I’m very much looking forward to following her development as she grows as an artist. 

I saw Celso Albelo sing Edgardo in Liège back in 2015 and it was interesting to hear him in the role again.  He sounds much more comfortable in the role than I remember him sounding back then, the top is produced with more freedom and ease.  He phrased his ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’ lovingly and with genuine musicality, and he coped with the ever-soaring phrases of his ‘Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali’ admirably, although tuning did occasionally come in and out of focus throughout the evening.  His singing was always dignified and honest, and displayed a genuine naturalness that was satisfying.  Ernesto Petti is a new name to me.  The Salerno-born baritone initially trained as a tenor before moving down.  In this mid-thirties, he’s already singing the big Italian baritone roles, such as Giorgio Germont, Carlo Gérard and di Luna, in regional houses throughout the Republic.  To my ears it sounds like a somewhat unfinished technique.  The sound, as recorded here, is rather velvety, the legato aspirated as if trying to make a bigger sound than it actually is, although the top is impressively full and easy.  An interesting artist who might perhaps make more impact live.  Michele Petrusi sang lugubriously as Raimondo.  If the vibrations have loosened ever so slightly in his bass, his implicit understanding of the idiom and generosity of phrasing are undimmed.  The supporting roles were more than adequately taken – David Astorga was a verbally incisive Arturo, Natalia Gavrilan sang Alisa in a delightfully full-bodied and fruity mezzo, while Matteo Mezzaro offered a sunny tenor as Normanno. 

There was much to enjoy in this Lucia.  Certainly, the assumption of the title role gave notice of a superb technician and a major talent, while the remainder of the cast sang honestly and with generosity.  As always, getting to hear Italian forces in this music is always a pleasure, although I did have reservations about Abbado’s monumental conducting.  That said, thanks are due to the Teatro Massimo for allowing us to join the audience in the house for this performance and for offering us this opportunity free of charge.  Undoubtedly worth a few hours of your time on a rainy afternoon.

The Teatro Massimo. Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

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