DONIZETTI: "Lucia di Lammermoor." Utah Opera Company with Utah Symphony, Vakhtang Jordania conducting. Sung in Italian with Supertitles. Capitol Theater, Oct. 13, 15, 17, 20 at 8 p.m., Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. For tickets call 533-6494.There's a lot to enjoy in the production of "Lucia" starring Roberta Peters that opens Utah Opera's 11th season, and you're likely to have a capital time at the Capitol Theater during the coming week, if you can tolerate unhappy endings, and love familiar opera tunes.
"Lucia di Lammermoor" may be Donizetti's masterpiece, according to how you personally judge those things. Certainly one of his best known operas, it finds the prolific Italian master of bel canto exploring the British countryside that so often fascinated him.
More specifically, the locale is Sir Walter Scott country - in misty, murky Scotland, with deep, wooded glens, haunted fountains, graveyards filled with crypts, and crumbling castles with candlelit living quarters. Fairly gloomy country this, and when you throw in a doomed love affair between the offspring of rival aristocracy engaged in a long-standing feud and impending political ruin, the scene is set for tragedy.
Accordingly, scenic projections with their accent on mood are more suitable for this opera than many others. Designer Niel Peter Jampolis has captured much of the decadence, the eerie, ghostly feeling in his projected settings, which are most effective in outside scenes, less so in interiors. One misses color, since the effect is mostly monochromatic blacks, grays and deep greens.
Roberta Peters has become a legend of sorts in Utah, where she has been astounding the natives for 30 years or more, and she's probably got a few surprises left in her. One of them may be a socko performance of Lucia later in this run, but her opening night Lucia was not her best work. The big first act aria and cabaletta sounded tense, though she eased beautifully into the love duet, finding those rounded, unforced high tones that, though small, carry well in any hall. She is a compelling actress, and brought off the wedding scene with piteous simplicity.
The mad scene, a supreme test of the coloratura soprano, has long been a Peters specialty, and her florid passages flowed with limpid grace, as she clearly delineated the signs of pathetic madness. (Laurels to the unnamed supporting flutist in the pit.) But there were some hollow high tones, and places where artful contrivance took the place of lyric vocal spontaneity.
Returning to Utah Opera as Edgardo, tenor Rico Serbo turns in his third role and his strongest performance yet. Rico has grown, as we like to say, and delivers more stature, good as he has always been. The voice is bigger, more rounded and exciting, and he spins the long bel canto phrases with a fine legato. He is romantic in the duet, masterful in the sextet, and touching in the death scene, crowned by a beautifully paced and sung "Tu che a Dio" - a killer among tenor arias (forgive the pun).
Eric Allen Hanson, also returning for the third time, shows his mettle as Enrico. Hanson has a lot more point, power and cutting edge than he's had a chance to project heretofore in Utah, and he puts it all on the line in an impressive dramatic baritone, endowing the austere and fiery brother with a modicum of humanity and remorse for the cruel fate he inflicts upon Lucia.
Michael Wadsworth, a Utah bass-baritone of definite promise, has his biggest opportunity at U.O. as the tutor Raimondo, and rolls out some rich, stenorian tones. Glade Peterson makes a more virile and vocally endowed Lord Arthur than the usual, and the well-loved Sextet bursts forth in show-stopping glory.
Costumes by Susan Memmott Allred are as usual suptuous and stylish. Staging by Beaumont Glass generally advances the spirit and style of the work, rising above handicaps imposed by the set's physical monotony and unilevel restrictions, save for one awkward and even embarrassing exception: Lucia, rushed post-haste from the castle, not yet cold in death (heaven knows how they got her there so fast after the death knell), is plunked down center stage on a stretcher, for no rational reason that one can puzzle out, to complicate Edgardo's death scene.
There was some juggling between pit and stage, as Jordania seemed to feel his way toward the tempo preferences and nuances of the singers, but he appears to have the right instincts for this piece, and the orchestra is generally in good estate. Note the especially lovely harp introduction to Scene Two.