The name of Dario Argento may not ring a bell for most Anglophones except die-hard horror cinema fans, but in his native Italy it has been widely known since 1970, when his first film, a slasher entitled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released to great acclaim.  Just like Hitchcock, he later presented a series of TV thrillers that made his face familiar to those who had never seen his films.  Even his most fervent admirers (and I confess to being one of them) will admit that his last movies – and by “last” I mean the ones he has made over the past twenty years – range from acceptable to downright mediocre, his fame, or notoriety, has not sensibly declined and to the average man on the street he is still a synonym with “fright” cinema.  Thus there was considerable curiosity when he first approached opera last year with a production of Verdi’s Macbeth in Novara that drew mixed reviews at best (it will be revived in Pisa in just a few weeks), followed by the current engagement for the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, a production of another Scottish story, Lucia di Lammermoor.  Those expecting gory details were disappointed, because the blood bath was limited to a redder than usual protagonist during the mad scene; he did show Lucia’s repeated stabbing of her husband while the Chorus was jubilating, but it was ineffective and awkwardly staged as it was, all the way back in the distance and on top of a catwalk, with a curtain rising for a few seconds just to show it and then falling down again.  It felt like an owed gesture: after all he is the “maestro dell’horror” and there had to be some sort of blood gushing to keep up with his  reputation.  Though the opera is set in 1850, the women wear Pre-Raphaelites costumes and hairstyles, ostensibly to emphasise their standing in the men’s eyes  There are eery similarities with Mary Zimmermann’s production first unveiled at the Met in 2007: both feature a ghost in the fountain scene (in this case the ghost, a busty and shapely nude woman, was hardly diaphanous); both show Lucia coming back as a ghost during Edgardo’s death scene, something I had found very touching in Zimmermann’s staging.

77 alisa ( marina ogii ) lucia ( natalia roman )

Musically things were decidedly more interesting.  Two casts are alternating and by all accounts the one under review – the second cast – is by far superior to the one chosen to inaugurate the production.  Filling in for the indisposed Orlin Anastassov, Giovanni Battista Parodi as Raimondo was the only one among the principals to appear in both occasions. His bass is not very large and, though pleasant enough, is marred by an insufficient projection of the sound, which is rather poor in overtones and does not run throughout the house. In addition, he shows problems at both ends: the descent to the low F sharp in his perhaps most authoritative phrase, “Rispettate in me di Dio la tremenda maestà” in Act II, was rather weak, and his holding the high E for a few measures longer than the chorus at the end of his Act III arioso just prior to Lucia’s entrance was not a felicitous idea.  Mansoo Kim redeemed his “generic villain” approach to the role of Enrico with a remarkable vocal delivery; his dark but not surly baritone is well produced and gifted with a secure top.

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The role of Edgardo, the quintessential Romantic hero, written for one of the most influential singers in the history of opera, Gilbert Louis Duprez, has been sung by tenors ranging from the light-lyric to the dramatic types; since the late 1800s it has fallen into the hands of Turiddus wandering through the thick Scottish fogs lured by the possibility to engage in a good curse, holding ad libitum an unwritten high note while omitting some measures containing precious information (“Ah, vi disperda!”, but by eliminating the subject “the wrathful hand of God”, we will never know who or what is supposed to exterminate the Ashtons).  Even our Edgardo, Enea Scala, was not able to resist such temptation, but at least he did it with taste.  The young Sicilian tenor offered a stylish performance, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to vent one’s wrath without necessarily resorting to braying.  His voice is on the smallish side, but a huge volume is not needed in this role; on the contrary most of the best Edgardos cannot be said to have distinguished themselves for sheer power.  Translating good intentions into practice is only possible if one has a solid technique and nowadays it is not so easy to find such an even, homogeneous voice in all its range, one where no gear-switching can be heard.  His high register is particularly easy, and it is a pity he did not attempt the E flat 5 in the first act duet with Lucia.  I appreciated his performing a different cadenza at the end of “Fra poco a me ricovero” and even more the ease and naturalness he displayed in a touching “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”.  Natalia Roman was all things considered a valid protagonist.  Although she cannot flaunt a particularly pure timbre, her voice is considerably meatier than what is normally heard in this role, especially in the middle-high register, and if the high Ds were easily produced, her Es flat, albeit acceptable, hint at a reduced space manoeuvring beyond that limit.  Her agility not being very accurate, she benefited from the traditional cut of a few measures of intricate coloratura in the phrase “l’inumano tuo rigor” in her Act II duet with Enrico.  Most striking was her emotional involvement and attempt to give life to a full rounded character with a well defined psychologic iter.  In Act I she was spunkier than most, and there was no hint of melancholy until Edgardo announced that he is leaving: then her agitation was real and culminated in a moving and engrossing mad scene.  Icing on the cake, her svelte and tall figure, her attractive high cheek-boned face helped her to make the most of a decidedly cumbersome wig  and unflattering costumes.  Marina Ogii (Alisa) and Enrico Cossutta (Normanno) capably filled their supporting roles, whereas the Arturo of Alessandro Fantoni left much to be desired in terms of sound projection.

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The Chorus and the Orchestra of the Teatro Carlo Felice gave satisfying performances as usual.  Although bel canto does not appear to be his elective field, Giampaolo Bisanti, whom I picked as best conductor in our annual round-up for his Cavalleria rusticana, is still a force to be reckoned with, offering a buoyant, well balanced performance, precise yet seemingly spontaneous, detailed yet fluid.  He zeroed in on the mood of the moment and carefully built each scene to its inexorable conclusion.  A bel canto specialist would however avoid internal cuts and expect his singers to variate daccapos.  In any case he provided an eloquent commentary on the drama.

Nicola Lischi

four stars

Photo credit: Marcello Orselli