A Dream Lucia Gives LA Opera a Magical Success.
‘LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR’
LOS ANGELES OPERA
DOROTHY CHANDLER PAVILION
SEEN MARCH 15, 2014
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
When I was about eighteen, I often listened to one audiotape sung by Joan Sutherland. A few of the selections were from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and I loved them. Studying voice at the time, my father and teacher always told me that Sutherland was unique. She didn’t sing like most typical coloratura sopranos with a somewhat thin and often squeaky voice to reach the higher register with a coloratura flourish — she sang those flowing runs and mellifluous arpeggios with a substantial soprano sound. In my mind, she was the quintessential Lucia, and I wondered if there would ever be another one like her. Naturally there was Nellie Melba, Tetrazzini, Galli-Curci, Lily Pons, then Sills and a more full-voiced Maria Callas. But Joan Sutherland was my Lucia in the 1960s and ’70s.
Well, there is a new star on our horizon: coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova. We are so lucky to have her in LA. So remember her name.
It is such a joy to go to the opera and really focus on the singers. The opening performance of Los Angeles Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” enabled us to really listen. Although the somewhat stark set with projections on the back walls might have benefited with a more traditional set, or any set for that matter, the modernistic frames and expressive lighting, minus an ostentatious, elaborate stage, allowed us to hear the singers and watch them.
This LA Opera “Lucia” was simply marvelous. I was in heaven because to me, I was finally going to the opera, not to a production where the singers were only dessert. The focus was on Donizetti’s luscious music and motifs conducted expressively by LA Opera’s music director James Conlon, and on the singers who would have made Donizetti proud.
I wondered what Joan Sutherland’s husband Richard Bonynge might have said if he had witnessed Shagimuratova. He was Miss Sutherland’s longtime conductor and music director. But then conductor Riccardo Muti has already engaged her.
Yes, Albina Shagimuratova is a marvel. Her tones were well-placed and sung with an ease that made all the trills and runs appear easy. You could see her supporting her frame from the onset, and then those high E-flats were just simply there — no pushing, no strain, just utter beauty. And, yes, as with Joan Sutherland — nothing was thin or squeaky. All one could hear was amazing sound: the sound of bells — narrow and clear.
And when Shagimuratova was accompanied by flute or glass harmonica, the mix of the sounds flew me right to the heavens.
Shagimuratova has sung all over the world and is only in her early 30s. She is known for her Queen of the Night and is becoming the Lucia of choice. Having sung at the Salzburg Festival, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, La Scala and the Met — the audiences are raving. There are so many talented and wonderful singers, but when one of them has something extra, it almost seems like a miracle. Shagimuratova’s “Regnava nel silenzio,” “Quando rapito in estasi,” and her mad scene were simply awe-inspiring.
The only element that I would hope to see her expand upon would be to add more of her soul to these very tragic and fragile characters. Angela Gheorghiu had the right quality in her 1994 performance as Violetta in “La Traviata” at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Sir Georg Solti. Her body was limpid and fragile as if she were Anna Pavlova dancing “The Dying Swan.” Anna Netrebko, whose soprano is quite different, sings the role of Lucia with more unbridled dramatics, and Natalie Dessay pulls no stops in the drama department either.
But I don’t want to say too much. I don’t want to disturb Shagimuratova’s lyric bel canto focus because nothing should be altered at the expense of those perfect magnificent tones. No, I am not overdoing it. Each one was a hand-crafted jewel. Shagimuratova will be performing “Lucia” at the Met next season with Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. I wish I could be there.
It is important to note that there have recently been two types of Lucias: lyric coloratura sopranos who include the Queen of the Night and Gilda in their repertoires, and the more traditional sopranos who would normally not venture into the bel canto coloratura soprano Fach. Both can be excellent, and both often cross over when making role choices. But in the case of Lucia, when you hear bells emanating from a singer’s throat, as with Shagimuratova, you suddenly realize what the ultimate Lucia sounds like.
Briefly, “Lucia” is based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor,” with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano. A French version exists with the libretto written by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. The opera takes place, in this case, in 1885 Scotland.
Enrico, Lucia’s brother, learns that his sister is in love with his rival, Edgardo Ravenswood, which sends Enrico into a rage.
From the onset, baritone Stephen Powell as Enrico showed strength in voice and stature. An ultimate and secure professional, he sang “Cruda, funesta smania” with distinction and was a commanding presence throughout.
As for Lucia, her romance with Edgardo is doomed from the beginning. When she sings of her apparition — the ghost of a girl murdered by a Ravenswood — we know that there is no hope.
Enrico begs her to marry Arturo. She protests, but ultimately signs a wedding contract to save her brother from political disaster.
During a storm, created very effectively with darkish gray projections and sound, Enrico challenges Edgardo to a duel. Later, the wedding festivities ensue, only to be interrupted by Lucia’s entrance in a long white dress laced with blood. After killing her new husband, she has gone mad and dreams of being with Edgardo.
In a graveyard, Edgardo thinks that Lucia has married and proven herself faithless. Then he discovers that she is near death and always loved him. Alas, he kills himself with a dagger, and so ends this avoidable tragedy.
As Edgardo, tenor Saimir Pirgu shows promise. He sang his ending arias, “Fra poco a me ricovero” and “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali,” with raw passion. He is young and his lyric tenor will develop. I look forward to hearing more.
Bass James Creswell as Raimondo, Lucia’s chaplain and tutor, has a commanding presence with an educated sound. I interviewed him when he was part of LA Opera’s Resident Artist Program years ago. His voice was always superior, but he was a bit stiff and not in tune with his characters. I heard him sing Leporello’s “Catalog” aria and knew he needed to loosen up and get more experience. That was in about 2006. Since then, he has done just that, spending part of his time in Germany. With all sincerity, I must compliment him for his persistence and dedication. It has paid off because what I saw on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday was a seasoned professional who could act and sing with assurance, character, authority and strength. He is perfect for stately roles, and there are many.
As Arturo and Alisa, tenor Vladimir Dmitruk and D’Ana Lombard did what was expected. It will be interesting to follow their development.
The weakest link was Joshua Guerrero as Normanno. At the very beginning, he seemed insecure and his voice didn’t reach over the orchestra. He seemed to be singing in rehearsal. His self-confidence grew, though. It was opening night.
The chorus was well-directed by Grant Gershon. Lighting was effective by Duane Schuler. And the costumes and wigs were an added bonus that complemented each other.
A break during the first half of the performance was overly long and might have been better utilized as an intermission. Later, two stagehands in costume moved furniture in view of the audience. Since this occurred only once, the move seemed incongruous with the action onstage since Lucia was standing nearby. But these were only minor technical issues that often arise on opening night.
Los Angeles Opera is back on track. It has an on-site president and chief executive officer, Christopher Koelsch, while Plácido Domingo remains at the helm. The company is living within its means with productions that please but keep costs intact. And the repertoire is enjoyable and inviting for LA audiences. The new is mixed with the old. And as in life, that is the way it should be.
So please go to hear Albina Shagimuratova in LA Opera’s “Lucia.” You have my stamp of approval. And if you do not live in Los Angeles, go to hear her when she comes to the opera company near you.
A New Production
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Elkhanah Pulitzer
Projection and Scenic Designer: Wendall K. Harrington
Scenery Designer: Carolina Angulo
Costume Designer: Christine Crook
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Movement Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Glass Harmonica: Thomas Bloch