Lucia di Lammermoor: Mad about you

So generous of the Wiener Staatsoper to throw in an opera along with that mad scene, no?  But considering the spectacle of hopeless conducting and pathetic staging that surrounded Annick Massis’s moment of Crazy–and Piotr Beczala’s decent tenor aria–I kind of wish they hadn’t.  That thing I said the other day about wanting boring productions to blog about instead of tricky stuff like Herheim?  It was only a joke, but I TAKE IT ALL BACK.

Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor.  Wiener Staatsoper, 1/14/2011.  Production by Boleslaw Barlog, conducted by Bruno Campanella with Annick Massis (Lucia), Piotr Beczala (Edgardo), Eijiro Kai (Enrico), Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Raimondo).

Bruno Campanella conducted with some nice differentiation of color but soporific tempos, which crippled the singers at many points.  They ran out of breath in the slow parts, they got ahead in the fast parts.  Sometimes he pulled dramatic accelerandos at the ends of numbers, which were exciting, but didn’t excuse the snooze that had preceded them.

Stage direction was nonexistent, with park and bark scenes and indulgence in semaphoric gestures of the worst sort (“O Ciel’!” proclaims Raimondo, raising both hands towards the sky).  Eijiro Kai has a solid, gravely, somewhat forced-sounding baritone, and was a stiff Enrico with little shading or expression.  Protagonists Annick Massis as Lucia and Piotr Beczala as Edgardo are both experienced exponents of their roles and made much more of them than the rest of the cast.  Unfortunately they had the chemistry and affection of two people who met that afternoon in the standing room line, but you can’t have everything.

Massis’s Lucia was delicate and neurotic, her incipient madness clear from her first entrance.  Her characterization was detailed and natural, but unfortunately her small, colorless voice didn’t make nearly as good an impression.  Her sound is thin and quavery, and she was often lost under the orchestra or in ensembles.  Her ornamentation and acuti were good, though Campanella’s tempo in “Quando, rapito in estasi” was tortuously slow.  But she pulled out all her stops for the mad scene, for which I suspect she had been saving her voice (and the orchestration is lighter), with more sound and creative, involving acting (including stepping off the main set to the very edge of the stage, almost literally leaving the world behind).  The coloratura was perfectly accurate and the high Es, with the exception of the final one, secure.  I’m not sure if she quite deserved the extent of the rapturous ovation she got, but in comparison to what had preceded the scene, it was understandable.

Beczala was said (unofficially) to be recovering from something or other and sounded off his best, singing with a reduced dynamic range of loud, loud, and loud, with a somewhat congested tone and strain on the high notes.  His Edgardo is filled with conventionally gallant acting details.  While this doesn’t quite create a rounded character, it beats standing still. Supporting characters were OK.  The chorus sounded really good, I can say that. 

Boleslaw Barlog’s ancient production begins with a few shabby, wrinkly drops that nonetheless necessitate 5-minute half-light scene changes every 20 minutes.  (With 18th-century stage technology, they could have switched out those suckers in 15 seconds.)  The Staatsoper understandably declines to provide photos of any of these sets on their website–the only photo they have that isn’t horribly blurry is the one above.  In the first scene, a background painting of a wild forest is augmented solely with a mysterious tree stump kindly placed on the center-left hot spot, so Normanno can be both seen and heard.  Things improve a bit when we go indoors, with some moderately impressive paneled rooms (pictured).  Oh, and Edgardo’s avi miei are buried in some sort of crypt (again, the pallbearers were considerate enough to set Lucia’s corpse down right next to the center-stage right hot spot, so Edgardo could off himself in acoustic favorability).  The costumes are also drab, and Massis was swimming around in a nightie that could have fit Joan Sutherland.  Come to think of it, it probably did.

Also, there were bows after every scene.  Not every act, every scene.  Strange reception at the end: extremely enthusiastic but very brief applause.  Vienna’s not the place of the Gesamtkunstwerk, though, and people are very willing to overlook massive deficiencies in some areas if there’s something they like elsewhere in the performance.  I’d prefer something that shows a group effort.  This wasn’t exactly my night.  Take me back to Germany, please.

Next: I got some Schenk wrapping-up to do, and am braving a return to the Philharmoniker tonight for Jansons and Shostakovich and Berlioz.


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  1. I probably should have given Beczala more credit, even when unwell he's still pretty damn good. But not quite enough to leap over the pile of mediocrity of this show. Hope I can join you on the Secco bandwagon when I hear him (again).

  2. The Konwitschny Traviata is in Graz. He's cut the ballet, too. I might go but I'm waiting for the reviews to decide. Cutting the intermission might make it much simpler for me, I might be able to do it as a day trip and not have to stay overnight in Graz.

    Would like to go to Frankfurt but am feeling a little Tosca-ed out currently. It happens, I like variety in the works I see. (Current motto is NO MORE ROSENKAVALIER.)

  3. Graz is quite nice though, if you have to stay. All these opera trips … I had this phenomenon (variety) when I had 4 Rusalkas and 2 Jenufas within a month or so – I thought "give me Italiano, please". The Rusalkas etc. were worth it, though, of course. Denoke as Jenufa – very touching.
    Actually the opera travel would be made much easier, if they had more matinee and afternoon performance on Sundays or so I think.

  4. Eurostar was started for the express purpose of allowing Londoners like me to attend the regular Sunday opera matinees in Paris and Brussels, and have a good lunch too.

  5. Very jealous, Vecchio John. I can also make it to… Bratislava?? (Probably better off staying in Vienna. Alas, Bratislava just canceled their Gabriela Benackova Rosenkavalier, for which I was going to make an exception to my No More Rosenkavaliers dictum.)

    Oper Graz doesn't seem go for matinees, but they do have some 18:00 performances and there's a 21:30 train to Vienna.

  6. Germany is bad in this – opera matinees are pretty much unheard of.
    Benackova is great! Her Rusalka on youtube is just wonderful.

  7. As I heard, the crisis in Hungary had apparently killed the Bratislava Rosenkavalier. It was to be a co-production between Budapest and Bratislava. I'm not sure how this works, because the production already exists in Budapest, I've seen it and written about it here, but that's what I heard. I'm not sure if this is true, though, because it's still on the website. But Benackova isn't listed in the cast anymore, which is also ominous. Needless to say, I'm not buying a ticket yet.