Lucia di Lammermoor

Manchester Evening News by Robert Beale

****

Buxton Festival has seen some great productions of classical comedy operas in past years, but this time there are not a lot of laughs. Lucia Di Lammermoor is about as tragic as they get, with the heroine knifing her husband on their wedding night and appearing completely bonkers in the famous ‘mad scene’ afterwards.

Like Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco, the other fully-staged in-house production in the festival, it’s all about one woman and her downfall.

It’s perhaps unusual for Buxton in that it’s thought by many to be Donizetti’s masterpiece and pretty frequently performed: in the mid-19th century, the story, based on Walter Scott, was one of the most popular shows on the stage.

So, rather than rescuing a gem from unjust neglect by sheer imagination and verve despite a tight budget, here the festival is inviting comparisons.

In one sense, all you need for Lucia is a cast of excellent singers as your principals, and the music will do the rest. And here they had them: Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard puts her all into Lucia, with unflagging power; Adriano Graziani is a very good young tenor and well cast as her true love, Edgardo; Stephen Gadd is magnificently godfather-like as her brother, Enrico; and Bonaventura Bottone a class act, as ever, as the unfortunate Arturo whom she marries.

Duets for Lucia and Enrico, and Enrico and Edgardo, sounded superb, and the act two sextet and finale were on a very high level.

But at the same time I found Stephen Unwin’s production and Jonathan Fensom’s design puzzling. The opera is set in Scotland in the aftermath of the Jacobite risings. There could have been resonances with the present day, as the plot is about forced marriage (Lucia’s brother makes her marry for the sake of the clan) and the clash between Scottish nationalism and unionism.

But the costumes and props remove it clearly to the mid-20th century, probably in Mafioso Italy, while there are painted cloths (drawn aside … I suppose, symbolically) which could have come from the original Romantic castles, swords, kilts and heather novel. I didn’t find that very enlightening, or convincing. The ‘fountain’ of the text, in which another girl’s body is supposed to have been dumped by her murderer, is a very Buxton-like horse trough.

Musically I had no complaints. Stephen Barlow conducts with urgency and fluency, and the Northern Chamber Orchestra and Festival Chorus respond well to him. Those eerie motifs which foreshadow Lucia’s lunacy are cleverly brought out, and the singers are skilfully supported.