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Gaetano DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor: at the Savonlinna Opera Festival 15.7.2009

Stage Director: Marianne Mörck
Stage Design: Göran Arfs
Costumes: Mathias Clason
Lighting Design: Thorsten Dahn


Enrico Ashton – Luis Ledesma
Lucia – Eglise Gutiérrez
Edgardo Ravenswood – Felipe Rojas Velozo
Arturo Bucklaw – Sergey Semishkur
Raimondo – Mika Kares
Alisa – Tiuja Knihtilä
Normanno – Petri Bäckström

Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir & Orchestra/Alberto Hold-Garrido

In collaboration with Malmö Opera.

There was a time when the bel canto repertoire was largely out of fashion. Even though operas like Il barbiere di Siviglia, Norma, L’elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor never totally disappeared it was not until the 1950s and the arrival of Maria Callas that there was a renaissance. Since then interest has increased and totally forgotten operas of the period have been dusted off and revived. Many of them have returned to well deserved oblivion – silly plots and often hastily concocted scores being the main reasons. The best of them are firmly established in the standard repertoire and Lucia di Lammermoor is certainly one of the best. The bleak story about rivalry, oppression and jealousy unfolds convincingly in a well constructed libretto. The music is almost totally inspired. To give a successful production of Lucia there has to be a formidable soprano for the title part and a fine bel canto artist for the leading tenor part, Edgardo. A good baritone for the role of Lucia’s cruel brother Enrico is not unimportant and it is a blessing to have a really fine bass singing Raimondo.

The Savonlinna production was first seen in 2007 but it remains a collaboration with the opera in Malmö, Sweden, where it was produced in the 1990s with the eminent coloratura soprano Dilbèr. Transferring any production from a smaller opera house to the wide stage at Savonlinna can be a tricky affair. It seems that the director didn’t know quite what to do with the space available. There are a couple of crowd scenes where the play becomes spectacular – and the Savonlinna Chorus are a great body, both vocally and in terms of acting skills. Most of Lucia di Lammermoor deals with personal conflicts and in several of the duet scenes there is a lot of walking and running back and forth apparently to very little purpose. The sets are mainly sombre as befits the dark story. The costumes are period and lavish. I feel that sometimes a director must trust the music, the singing and acting to carry the message over the footlights without necessarily having things going on all the time. Lucia is an opera with so much inherent beauty and drama that it works perfectly well even in a concert performance.

The production at Savonlinna is uncommonly complete and includes the Wolf’s Crag scene, Raimondo’s first aria and the concluding duet with Lucia, which often are cut. The Wolf’s Crag scene became especially dramatic on the opening night, due to a heavy thunderstorm raging above and around the castle. The pre-recorded thunder and lightning effects seemed more or less redundant. The problem was that the heavy rains drenched most of what Enrico and Edgardo were singing and they continued also a few minutes into the next scene, rather putting Raimondo’s aria in the shade. Luckily the rain ceased in time for Lucia’s mad scene, which was a blessing, since the 2,257 listeners had been so eagerly waiting for this highlight. I believe nobody was disappointed.

Cuban-born soprano Eglise Gutiérrez, who also sang the role two years ago, is quite simply a stunning artist. I have been lucky to hear a number of great Lucias, including Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberova and the young Andrea Rost. Eglise Gutiérrez is at least their equal in vocal terms and surpasses them in natural acting ability. Her voice is not gigantic but it is pure and even and has divine beauty. Technically she is also well endowed though her coloratura may not have the razor-blade precision of, say, Sumi Jo. She is fluent and elegant and indulges in some extra decorations in her set-pieces. She also finds all the nuances in the part, singing exquisite pianissimos, an ability that more than anything reveals the true master. I would be very surprised if Eglise Gutiérrez doesn’t go straight to the top of her trade – actually I believe she is already there, being elected Artist of the Year in Savonlinna this year.

The young Finnish bass Mika Kares, singing the role of Raimondo, is another artist to watch. He has already had an important career in Germany, rapidly adding the great bass roles to his repertoire. Hearing his voluminous and well equalized basso cantante is a pleasure.

Felipe Rojas Velozo has a well schooled lyric tenor with some ring to the top notes but a tendency to overload and indulge in near-shouting, which lessens the impact. Luis Ledesma opened rather hesitantly with strained, gritty tone and a great deal of wobble. He grew better by degrees and dramatically had much to offer. Sergey Semishkur sported a beautiful lyric tenor and the relatively few things he had to sing made me wonder whether he wouldn’t have been a better choice for Edgardo’s role.

Alberto Hold-Garrido, well-known in opera houses in both Stockholm and Helsinki, led a stylish performance and there were well deserved standing ovations for Eglise Gutiérrez.

Göran Forsling

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