A worthy cast hits most of the high notes in Met’s “Lucia”
Never mind St. Patrick’s Day; on Monday night the Metropolitan Opera took its third trip of the season to the Scottish highlands with Donizetti’s beloved Lucia di Lammermoor. Even if the performers’ casual acting kept the piece from reaching its dramatic potential, the vocal acrobatics on display provided more than enough excitement.
This was, moreover, a performance about much more than just the one legendary scene. As previously, Mary Zimmerman’s 2007 production–though atmospheric and prettily costumed–neither illuminates nor obfuscates; the most effective touch is Act II’s Phantom-like transformation from crumbling manor to vibrant ballroom. Static theatricality notwithstanding, the complete musicality of the piece was fully revealed, sung and played with the sort of passionate elegance that makes the bel canto style uniquely rewarding.
Precise pitch is not among the greatest strengths of Albina Shagimuratova, Monday’s Lucia. Everything else is, at least in the vocal department. Right from the start she showed a light, easy tone that seemed to take wing and glide into the upper reaches house, making “Regnava nel silenzio” particularly enchanting. She did not give the most captivating performance of the mad scene, but the sheer beauty of her sound was exquisite. The cool, beaming clarity of Shagimuratova’s voice made the entire sequence a thing of otherworldly purity, particularly in the nimble, playful cadenza with flute accompaniment (spellbindingly spun by Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson). She took a split second to get all the way up to the final E-flat, but the whole was dispatched with skill and poise.
Joseph Calleja, apparently, was recovering from a bout of flu, and asked for our understanding. A consummate professional, he turned in a performance as Edgardo that was nothing less than first-rate, despite turning aside many times to let out a surreptitious cough. Sure, his voice might not have had quite as much charge as usual, and a hint of congestion was audible on his high notes. His lemony tone, however, was as focused as ever, and his dramatic commitment was absolute. His ailment did not keep him from going up for some gorgeous soft notes, nor from powering through to a tireless, passionate finish in his riveting tomb scene.
Luca Salsi made a solid Enrico, his voice imposing and his tone several shades darker than dusk. He brought full, woody resonance and thunderous power to the role, but still had enough control to show nuance, as well. His dramatic portrayal was harder to make sense of, as he often resorted to generic mustachio-twirling. Seemingly limited in his gestural vocabulary, he had made pointing the finger of doom at his interlocutors something of a trademark by evening’s end.
Conductor Maurizio Benini, one of the Met’s bel canto stalwarts, led an inspired performance. Even if he indulged a singer here or there, every tempo was just right, every texture impeccably balanced, every phrase eloquently turned. He wove a richly atmospheric prelude and led tight, thrilling ensemble numbers. Mariko Anraku, the acting principal harpist, was sublime in the solo that divides the two scenes of the first act.
Among the supporting cast, Matthew Plenk was especially notable as the ill-fated bridegroom Arturo. His voice spread slightly at its top, but he brought a taut, golden tone that fit the role perfectly. Alistair Miles’s mahogany voice could not always reach the low notes, but he gave a noble portrayal of the cleric Raimondo.
Lucia di Lammermoor runs through April 10 at the Metropolitan Opera. metopera.org