Three years ago, Mary Zimmerman’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor premiered on opening night of the new Metropolitan Opera season. To mark the occasion, striking images of a zombie-eyed, blood-soaked Natalie Dessay flooded the subway system on the Met’s numerous advertisement posters. “You’d be mad to miss it,” the tagline read.
Donizetti’s tragic opera, which premiered in 1835 in Naples, stands out today as one of the most pleasing works in the bel canto genre. It is most recognizable for its so-called Mad Scene in Act III, in which its title soprano, after having murdered her poor husband, performs an extremely demanding coloratura aria.
None of the productions that Zimmerman (a Tony winner for her unique adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses) has staged at the Met – including Lucia and Rossini’s La Sonnambula and Armida – have been well received by critics. The crowd even booed when Zimmerman took the stage for curtain call on opening night of Sonnambula, which was marred by her half-baked, nonsensical concept of setting it in a contemporary rehearsal studio.
While Zimmerman’s production of Lucia is not exactly perfect – it is visually awkward and marked by numerous staging choices that are annoying and distracting – it has benefited from the lead sopranos playing the title role including Dessay, Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko. On Thursday night Dessay, who did not appear at the Met at all last season, returned to the role. She was accompanied by Ludovic Tézier as Lucia’s self-concerned, heartless brother Edgardo and Joseph Calleja as her star-crossed lover from a rival family.
While Netrebko certainly did hit all the high notes, she generally held her voice back whenever possible. However, in terms of acting, she projected a believable fragility and sadness as she was forced by her cruel brother into a marriage of fiscal convenience. It is a deeply felt but underplayed performance – a real rarity in opera. And in the Mad Scene, she was sensational.
One unfortunate change for this revival was replacing the glass harmonica in the Mad Scene with a more traditional flute. The glass harmonica emitted a chilling and creepy sound that perfectly complimented the atmosphere of horror. The intermissions also took as long as 40 minutes – far too long for any reasonable operagoer to endure.