The Baltimore Opera Company opened its current season at the Lyric Opera House Saturday evening with what is -- visually and, for the most part, vocally -- a ravishing production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."
The visual aspect was to be expected. In the last several years, the best-looking BOC productions have been designed by the Argentine team of Roberto Oswald (he does the directing, the lights and the sets) and Anibal Lapiz (he does the costumes). Although this was a production that reportedly cost only $57,000, it looked much, much more expensive.
It was also intelligent. Oswald and Lapiz clearly paid a good deal of attention to the period -- late 17th century -- in which Sir Walter Scott set "The Bride of Lammermoor," the historical novel that inspired the composer.
The libretto tells us that the fortunes of the brother and sister Ashton are in decline -- hence the marriage into which Enrico forces his sister, Lucia. Oswald captures this aspect of the opera with a design for the Ashtons' castle that suggests walls into which vegetation has begun its invasion.
There are also the brilliant (though unobtrusive) lighting effects that distinguished this director's previous efforts in Strauss' "Salome" and Verdi's "Don Carlos," lighting characters' faces -- the inspiration here seemed to be Rembrandt -- in a manner that highlights their torment. For the act in which Lucia's wedding to Arturo takes place, there was a chiaroscuro pattern on the back wall that depicts the castle's windows and also suggests a chessboard on which the characters' various tragic fates are manipulated by malign forces beyond their control. Lapiz' beautiful costumes, lustrously dark and heavily weighted as dress in the period tended to be, carried further the basic metaphor of people pressed to death by the burdens they carry.
Only two of the voices were terrific -- but when those voices belong to Lucia and to her lover, Edgardo, that's enough to make this opera work.
Martile Rowland (Lucia) and Stuart Neill (Edgardo) sometimes lumbered around the the stage like beached whales; but when they opened their mouths, there was magic. The soprano spun out stunning high notes, both at soft and at high dynamic levels, xTC embellished effortlessly and brought real passion to the role. She built the mad scene intelligently, saving her powers for the cabaletta.
The young tenor (Neill doesn't seem to be more than 30) was just as impressive: ardent, poignant and angry -- his voice rang out with fury in the Maledetto -- by turns. It's also a large voice that had the necessary heroic dimension for the confrontation with Enrico.
It was not an equal match; the Enrico of baritone Adib Fazah was well-acted, if vocally less impressive than those of the soprano and tenor leads. William Fleck was sometimes off pitch, but he made a dramatically imposing Presbyter as Raimondo. Phyllis Burg and Christopher Petrucelli made an attractive Alisa and Arturo. Melvin Lowery was a vocally pinched Normanno. Alfredo Silipigni's conducting was knowledgeable but often laboriously
slow. The fine flutist in Lucia's mad scene was Sara Landgren.
The performance will be repeated Oct. 20, 22 and 24.