Tuesday, February 19, 2013

West Bay Opera: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor

February 15, 2013

One of the more indelible opera experiences I’ve ever had was watching soprano Rochelle Bard perform the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor with Opera San Jose. Her Sybil-like portrayal of the mad scene – changing expressions and moods every few seconds to reflect the character’s inner chaos – was so powerful that I used it later for the diva-protagonist of my opera novel.

Thanks to West Bay’s fondness for using Opera San Jose alumni (and why not?), I had a chance this Friday to watch Bard reprise the role, and it’s fascinating to see how she’s changed her approach. Her present Lucia evokes those creepy children who are always popping up in horror movies, singing some sort of nursery rhyme. Bard wanders blood-stained through the shocked wedding guests, reminiscing about her sweet romance with Edgardo, and even giggles when she discovers the flute-bird who agrees to sing along with her.

The approach shed some new angles on the scene, whose playful, decorative music is eerily out of place, given the homicidal context. Another mesmerizing element is the use of so much stark silence, which offers a sonic playground to the right soprano. And certainly, Bard is that soprano, equipped with every gem in the coloratura jewel-box: staccato leaps, diamond-like trills, sculpted dynamic lines, and a buoyant, silvery tone with a perfect vibrato. Combine this with the insane-child persona and you have an entire audience holding its breath.

The OSJ pipeline also supplied baritone Krassen Karagiozov as brother Enrico, exhibiting an added heft to his voice and blending beautifully in his duets; and bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala, who employed a velvet timbre as the chaplain Raimondo, particularly effective in his announcement of the wedding night murder.

Playing Lucia’s lover, Edgardo, tenor Vincent Chambers delivered a powerful spinto, adding a layer of machismo to an already-passionate character. He showed a bit of strain in the final scene, which served as a reminder of how taxing that scene can be. Another of the opera’s particular challenges is the need for a tenor with bona fide top notes for the brief role of Arturo; Delmar McComb filled the part nicely.

Together, the principals delivered a robust rendition of the ever-intriguing Sextet, led off by Karagiozov and Chambers. The chorus generally sang well, but occasionally raced ahead of Michael Singher’s baton. Jean-Francois Revon’s sets were not as impressive as usual, but he did a good job of covering some of the flaws with fabrics (the gold draperies of Enrico’s apartment). The follow-spots were distractingly erratic, especially during the mad scene.

Through Feb 24, Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. $40-$75. 650/424-9999, wbopera.org

Image: Soprano Rochelle Bard as Lucia. Photo by Otak Jump.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the novel Operaville, available at amazon.com.

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