Patriarchal Oppression: Lucia di Lammermoor at the Staatsoper Hamburg

Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia – Nina Minasyan
Edgardo – Ioan Hotea
Enrico – Alexey Bogdanchikov
Raimondo – Tigran Martirossian
Arturo – Seungwoo Simon Yang
Alisa – Renate Spingler
Normanno – Collin André Schöning

Chor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg / Leonardo Sini.
Stage director – Amélie Niermeyer.

Staatsoper, Hamburg, Germany.  Saturday, January 8th, 2022.

Amélie Niermeyer’s new staging of Lucia di Lammermoor was to have premiered in March of last year.  However, due to lockdown, it was given a virtual premiere, available to view all over the world.  I saw it at the time and it certainly looked intriguing.  It was then given a premiere in front of a live audience, with a similar cast to the original broadcast, in November last year.  I finally got to see Niermeyer’s staging in person tonight, with a different cast and conductor to those involved in those first performances.   

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

Niermeyer opens the evening in the most arresting way.  A video of a group of women is shown of them dancing, while accompanied by a rap in Italian that accused the audience of being murderers and rapists, while also taking aim at the hypocrisy of religion and patriarchy.  Surprisingly, it actually seemed to work well, segueing into the murky musical opening of the opera itself.  Presumably, this was in place since Niermeyer wanted to highlight the plight of women today in forced marriages or subjugated by religion – two themes central to the opera itself.  The video reappeared at various points throughout the evening, projected over the set in the Act 2 finale and in the mad scene.  Indeed, the Act 2 finale was accompanied by visuals of the dancers in front of various Hamburg landmarks.  The downside of this was that it felt heavy-handed – however laudable the intention.  Rather than using the cast and music to drive the action forward, to allow the audience to empathize and relate with Lucia, instead it felt that we were deprived of the opportunity to think for ourselves and, in turn, robbed the performance of its impact.  As Lucia sang ‘spargi d’amaro pianto’, the German and English surtitles, rather than translating the original, said ‘the murderer is you’.  The outcome was that Niermeyer’s staging felt cold and confrontational.  I couldn’t help but think of how Bieito, for instance, would approach a scenario like this.  I have no doubt that he would send us out into the night wanting to change the world and right wrongs, whereas Niermeyer made it feel that the world is unremittingly bleak.

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

That said, there are some good ideas in her staging.  The sight of Lucia locked in her room as Edgardo mourned her death below, unaware she was still up there, was haunting.  Similarly, the sight of Raimondo celebrating with Enrico when it seemed the wedding would be going ahead, was a stark reminder of the malicious combination of religion and patriarchy.  And yet, the fact that the set would often move while characters were singing, distracting from individual performances, or that so often, direction of the principals revolved around stock operatic gestures to the front, rather than using interactions between the cast to drive the narrative forward, betrayed a seeming unwillingness by Niermeyer to allow her singing-actors to live out their own stories. 

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

Perhaps, it was due to pandemic-related precautions that Christian Günther’s chorus was placed in boxes on either side of the stage, while a group of actors engaged with the action onstage.  Under Leonardo Sini’s direction, stage-pit coordination was spot on all night.  What was also notable was the precision of the chorus’s tuning.  Sini led a reading full of bel canto lyricism, with lively tempi and sharp attack throughout.  The playing of the orchestra, was notable for a unanimity of approach, with silky strings, while the virtuosity of Philipp Marguerre’s glass harmonica cast a ghostly pallor over the textures. 

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

Nina Minasyan gave us an impressively-sung Lucia.  She’s the owner of a fabulous technique, with a significant number of the bel canto tools at her disposal.  She has an easy top and indulged in frequent excursions to the stratosphere.  Her ability to float the high-lying phrases with a pianissimo that still carried through the house was impressive.  That said, the range of tone colours Minasyan was able to exploit felt relatively limited.  It did mean that her glassy tone blended quite hauntingly with the glass harmonica in the mad scene, however.  A notable technician, undoubtedly, if perhaps with some way to go as an interpreter. 

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

Her Edgardo was Ioan Hotea.  His is a bright, well-placed tenor with good ping on top.  Hotea’s sunny tone is ideally matched the role and he clearly has a promising future as a very useful artist in this repertoire.  In his big closing scene, he had a tendency to give a little too much, with the result that tuning went in and out of focus.  That said, his easy lyricism and warmth of tone gave much pleasure.  Alexey Bogdanchikov sang Enrico in a firm baritone with a big, penetrating top.  The middle is inclined to graininess and occasionally there’s a tendency for the line to be slightly aspirated.  However, he definitely has musicality to spare and the top is indeed impressive.  Tigran Martirossian sang Raimondo in an inky bass, with good resonance.  Renate Spingler sang Alisa enthusiastically, while Collin André Schöning sang Normanno in a feather-light tenor, and Seungwoo Simon Yang sang Arturo in a similarly well-placed Italianate tenor.

Photo: © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg 2021

Tonight, was an evening that was musically extremely satisfactory.  The house forces were on superb form, it was conducted with innate bel canto sensibility, and it was satisfyingly sung across the board.  Niermeyer’s staging has an important message, but ultimately lacks theatrical impact because she doesn’t appear to trust her singers to tell their own stories, or the audience to empathize and feel with the characters – even if, at times, she does bring some interesting insights.  A bold evening theatrically, if perhaps one that doesn’t live up to its initial promise.  The Hamburg audience gave the cast an extremely generous ovation.

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