Lucia di Lammermoor

Gaetano Donizetti

I just attended the Commonwealth Opera performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Academy of Music in Northampton with my friend Catherine Stryker.

The Academy is near and dear to my heart because it was there that Sarah and Shucks and I performed with Kurt Vonnegut, and it’s the home of the Young at Heart Chorus.

The grand dame, where Ethel Barrymore once performed, was in her glory today. This performance was really magnificent — the sets, the costumes, the lighting,  the orchestra and of course the singers.

Donizetti seems to take pains to give each section of the orchestra its chance to shine — the harp, the timpani, the plucked bass, the cornets, the trombones, the flutes — everybody.

The supporting cast all had great pipes and they made a powerful chorus. The leads were all great singers, too, and then on top of that there was Lucia, Andrea Chenoweth, the coloratura soprano. She was transcendent.

There’s the famous sextet immortalized by Enrico Caruso, Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges,  sung by the tutor, the companion, the brother, the husband, the lover and the eponymous Lucia. There’s a reason it’s so famous. It’s a wonderful piece of music.

They had subtitles on a screen above the stage,  and with six people singing at once, I thought it might blow a fuse.

But the most memorable scene, by far, is when the wedding guests are dancing and making merry and the tutor comes running in and says the bride has just stabbed the groom in their wedding chamber.

And Lucia comes out in her bloody dressing gown carrying a doll and sings about all the pretty flowers and her happy wedding day and the guests all stand there in horror as she sings her girlish songs and hugs them and gets blood on their nice new clothes.

The whole performance was a real joy, something I’ll remember as long as I live.

My friend Wiki says Lucia di Lammermoor, based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, was originally regarded as “a mere showpiece for coloratura nightingales sopranos,” but after the Second World War, it was revived by “a small number of technically able sopranos” that included Maria Callas, Joan Suthlerland and Beverly Sills.

At first it was regarded as pure entertainment, but over the years audiences have been able to discern a strong message against an inhuman patriarchy. Indeed, that may be why these legendary sopranos made it their calling card.

Plus it was a dandy excuse to get dressed up for something besides  a funeral.