This month the National Opera House in Bucharest presented Andrei Serban’s new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor – an opera inspired by Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, from which it retains only the bare-bones structure of love against political conflict.
The production is not so new, it is a revisiting of the director’s already famous Paris production of 1995, which triggered some commotion and a lot of controversy at its premiere and was never loved and truly accepted by the public, despite its evincing certain qualities.
Serban’s staging focuses less on romantic love and more on the political background and Lucia’s inadequacy. She is a woman treated as an object in a men’s world, she lives in a world of her own, dreams of a happy life and love which she cannot get, she fights for it, but, defeated, is pushed into murder, insanity and death. The whole production is bleak, austere and grey, with just a few spots of colour that only enhance the bleakness. The stage set, which does not change, is a horseshoe of walls with numbered doors that depicts something in between a barracks and a psychiatric ward; in the upper part there is a corridor that hosts the still-standing chorus, all dressed in black 1920s outfits; two mobile gangplanks help link the upper to the lower space. If the chorus is utterly static, the stage is filled with some 25 extras (ballet-dancers, circus-players, gymnasts), who are in full action and almost constantly move around. The male characters are dressed in black or grey Nazi-SS-like uniforms, Edgardo wears a red shirt and black trousers, while Lucia changes into various white or pinkish dresses. The stage direction for the male parts is not complex, focusing on the leading lady, who toils all around the stage, covering the whole space (the height of the stage as well as its plane surface), as she is required to climb various ladders and scaffoldings. It is by no means a static production, but the redundant and pointless moving around has some reversed effects: first it does not help at all the singer, whose vocal performance suffers; second, it is tiring for the spectator. The movements do not always make sense and, as the director insisted that they should be performed with maximum precision and accuracy, the overall result is an impression of mechanical puppets, devoid of any feeling and emotion, moving around automatically. After the initial shock, it becomes boring and difficult to watch, while the bleak lighting is intensely soporific.
The conducting rested with Marcello Mottadelli, a new acquisition of the theatre, who generally kept things in balance, with a tendency to raise the volume of the orchestra too much in the forte passages covering the voices, but who was totally devoid of feeling and emotion. The orchestra itself was coherent and responded fairly well, but the brass made frequent mistakes and desyncs.
In all three performances, the primadonna was the Tatar soprano Venera Protasova (Russia) – young, slim and beautiful, with a pretty voice well projected in the house. She managed to do everything that the director had required of her, but failed vocally. Her voice is very high, with a slim middle and no low notes, yet the top notes were sometimes lustreless and strangled. The coloratura was approximated and never neat, her trills mostly non-existent. She concentrated on what she had to do and sing, so she left out all emotion and, despite some beautiful singing, she was essentially unsatisfactory.
In Edgardo’s part, the star was Ramon Vargas, who was quite a disappointment, a veiled voice with no top and little fluidity, singing in a style that sounded more like verismo than bel canto, and dramatically unconvincing. The last performance was sung by the young Florin Guzgă from Iaşi, a beautiful voice but not technically mature yet, a gifted actor, yet not entirely convincing.
Enrico’s part was covered by three baritones: Cătălin Țoropoc (Romania), whose singing was very good, but whose acting was a little constricted; Valdis Jansons (Latvia), whose voice is weak, with no top, too soft and slim in the low range, his acting being on par with his voice; Adrian Mărcan (Romania – Iaşi) – solid vocally but a little too aggressive and exposing certain limits in the top register, but very convincing on stage.
The role of Raimondo was sung in turn by two basses: Ramaz Chikviladze (Georgia) has a big booming voice with a strong top but a weak middle and a very slim low register, with a faulty pronunciation and no virtuosity, linear singing and also linear acting. Romanian bass Horia Sandu has a deeper and more flexible voice, with a cavernous ring to it, but he was somehow not at ease; a better actor, he made more of his part without being really convincing.
In all the casts, the small parts were well covered, with a special mention for Arturo, interpreted by two very different and interesting Romanian tenors: Andrei Lazăr and Liviu Indricău.
The chorus sang well but, since it was placed too far behind, the text was incomprehensible most of the time.
The public responded warmly with ovations, but also with a few boos to the director on the first night’s performance.