Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor - Dramma tragico in three acts (1835) [85.07]
Lord Enrico Ashton - Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone)
Lucia (his sister) - Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood - Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Raimondo Bidebent (Lucia’s teacher and confidant) - Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Alisa (Lucia’s companion) - Michaela Martens (mezzo)
Normanno (captain of the Ravenswood guard) - Michael Myers (tenor)
Chorus, and Ballet of the Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Marco Armiliato
rec. live, The Met, 7 February 2009
Production: Mary Zimmerman
Set Design: Daniel Ostling
Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Design: T.J. Gerckens
Picture Format: NTSC / Colour / 16:9 Filmed in High Definition
Region Code: 0 (Worldwide)
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1
Menu Language: English
Subtitles: Italian; German; English; French; Spanish; Chinese
Extras: Backstage at the Met with Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Mary Zimmerman and others
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4526 [2 DVDs: 57.23 + 17.04]

This features an alluring Lucia throughout who only descends into madness in the last act. It is not surprising that the directorial team chose to postpone any insanity until as late as possible. Anna Netrebko looks in blooming health having only a few months previously given birth to her first child - not quite the most famous operatic baby but certainly one that caused opera houses to alter castings. There is no suggestion of the early Lucia having a disturbed personality. This is not a disturbed mind gradually crumbling and descending to madness - more of which anon.

This is another production for which the producer Mary Zimmerman alters the setting. Here
it remains in Scotland but fast-forwards from the seventeenth century, bypasses the date of writing, and on into the late Victorian period. Scotland? Maybe: the only such evidence is a dull tartan(?) shoulder sash for Normanno with guards’ caps. Therefore there is no clan/house difference between the factions of Lammermoor and Ravenswood. No vibrant tartans, not a kilt or sporran in sight, so we could be anywhere that offers a heath with stately homes nearby.

For Netrebko’s first appearance she wears what might be described as a classical side-saddle hunting habit with a pert riding hat. The muff suggests drawing room rather than hunting field as does the immaculate hair pleat with single ringlet. With make-up to match here is a physically resplendent Netrebko.

That arrival is heralded by the excellently played harp solo (Mariko Anraku). In Regnava nel silenzio (CD1 tr.9) Netrebko recounts seeing the ghost of her ancestress slain by a Ravenswood and disposed of in the nearby fountain - which looks more like a well, a necessary change for what follows. The distracting ghost actually appears during Netrebko’s moving aria, mirroring her movements before climbing into the well. There are few embellishments so no suggestion of even slight mental insecurity.

Despite her adored Edgardo (Piotr Beczala) telling her of his immediate departure to France, slight sadness (no instability) is replaced by joy at the loving exchange of rings. As an aside it is unfortunate that Beczala places the ring on her left hand but at the end of Act 2 snatches it off her right hand - a jarring inconsistency.

For her meeting with her brother, Mariusz Kwiecien as Enrico, an almost plangent oboe announces her arrival. Even when shown the forged letter there is only shock not derangement. During some typical floor-rolling in the last duet of the scene, Netrebko demonstrates her strong breath control and dynamics. This is accompanied by a new floor level camera and a tedious number of rapidly interchanging camera shots. At one point I counted ten different shots in a 30 second period - surely the average opera-goer’s attention span is better than that? But wait until the end of the Act 2 Finale where there are more than 35 shots in 90 seconds: so very irritating.

Only in the “mad” scene itself are there some embellishments with strong dynamics. Whilst she delivers a beautiful tone, delicious legato and splendid pianissimos the lack of multi-layered ornamentation with only limited stratospheric wandering - neither of which are Netrebko’s strengths - is a disappointment.

However there is an excellent complementary tone and timbre with her hero Beczala. He has matured much over the last few years; now evincing a true Italianate tenor with clear diction and a strongly focused attention to musical detail. His last act double aria is a tour de force. He offeers a ringing tone with breath control, dynamics and tone to match.

Forte is a necessity for Mariusz Kwiecien (Enrico), a baritone in a temper about something for most of the opera. However Kwiecien provides a deeper insight in the scene with his sister Lucia. He starts with almost gentle persuasion rather than the bullying or blackmail with which he concludes. Indeed even at that stage he gives an excellent impression of reluctance about imposing financial practicality on her ill-conceived love. Kwiecien sharply defines Enrico throughout, again with tonal beauty when not fortissimo. Good diction and serious acting make for an excellent performance.

It is left to Ildar Abdrazakov as Raimondo, Lucia’s tutor and religious adviser, to provide the voice of reason. He duly obliges with restraint and conviction. His delivery of Dalle stanze ove Lucia (CD2 tr. 5), announcing Lucia’s murder of Arturo, is stage-commandingly delivered with gravitas and some deep colouring.

Colin Lee (Arturo) is a delightfully self-important Arturo. He brings an exhilarating timbre similar to that of Juan Diego Florez. His cavatina Per poco (disc 1 track 25) is delivered with elegant line and easy phrasing.

Michael Myers is the captain of the guard, Normanno. He does not have the strongest voice but despatches the role competently as does Michaela Martens as Lucia’s companion Alisa.

The large chorus is in capital form: crisp and convincing, strong dynamics and excellent diction throughout meriting the small fortune that appears to have been spent on their wardrobe: begrudge them not a cent. Marco Armiliato keeps the whole moving along smartly for most of the time: allowing a generous slack in some arias for soloists to wring the last lyrical drops from Donizetti’s melodies.

Vocally the ensembles are taut: none more so than in what is generally thought to be one of the most famous sextets in the operatic repertoire Chi mi frena (disc 1 track 28). And there praise and enthusiasm come to an abrupt halt: ground down by the appalling affectation of a mimed photographer organising the principals in poses for his camera during the sextet. Quite dreadful. As is the doctor injecting Lucia near the end of the ‘mad’ scene and the ghost of the fountain replicated in Lucia’s own ghost at Edgardo’s death.

With a Metropolitan Opera live High Definition recording there has to be an introduction: this time by Natalie Dessay, a former Lucia of this production, walking over the opening stage telling us what we are going to see - with some later shots of principals leaving the stage. Fortunately the usual gushing interviews are confined to a succession of extras at the end of the second disc where they can remain.

Finally, a comparison with a production I reviewed in 2004. Stefania Bonfadelli on TDK’s Genoa recording (DV-OPLDIL) is a neurotic Lucia from the start. She disintegrates into madness gradually with strong acting, facial expressions, coloratura agility, and flute echoes second to none. For me, Bonfadelli gives a stronger representation of the path to madness and her whole performance is centred on that concept.

Robert McKechnie