Small Town Fun and Big Time Opera in Northampton, MA

Commonwealth Opera presented Gaetano Donizetti’s famous opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, based on the novel, The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott. Lucia was commissioned for the San Carlo Opera House in Naples in 1835. The opera was extremely successful when it premiered and has never left the stage since then. Every year it is said that someone, somewhere puts on a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. The American poet, Walt Whitman, enjoyed the opera so much that he attended every performance he could find when he lived in New York City. Now, that’s some track record for an opera!

Written in 1819, The Bride of Lammermoor is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, set in Scotland in the reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714). The novel tells of a tragic love affair between Lucy Ashton and her family’s enemy Edgar Ravenswood. Scott indicated that the plot was based on an actual incident.

Synopsis:

Donizetti’s librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, adapted the opera from the novel into two parts, but Lucia is usually given in three acts. In Part 1, The Departure, the opera begins with Normanno, a henchman for Lucia’s brother and Lord Enrico Ashton looking for an intruder on their lands. Normanno reports that the trespasser is Edgardo of Ravenswood, a sworn enemy of the Ashton Clan. He also reports that Lucia is in love with Edgardo. In the next scene, Lucia meets Edgardo and the two exchange vows of love. Edgardo bids Lucia adieu as he must depart for France. He promises to write.

In Act 2, Enrico and Normanno plot to force Lucia to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw for political reasons. To do this, Normanno has intercepted all of Edgardo’s letters to Lucia and has forged a letter “proving” that Edgardo has been unfaithful to Lucia. Enerico deceives Lucia and begs her to marry Arturo in order to save him from political ruin. At the advice from the family chaplain Raimondo, Lucia agrees.

Part 2, The Wedding Contract, begins with the second scene of Act 2. Guests are assembled for the wedding of Lucia and Lord Arturo. As soon as the contract is signed, Edgardo rushes in and denounces Lucia. The incredible sextet from Lucia takes place in this final scene of Act 2 – marking one of operas grandest moments!

Act 3 begins with the Wolf Crag Tower scene. Lucia’s brother, Enrico, has followed Edgardo to his ruined castle. The two men declare their hatred of each other and swear to destroy one another.

Meanwhile back at the castle, the chaplain Raimondo interrupts the wedding party. He tells that Lucia has become totally demented and stabbed her husband to death. Lucia enters and sings her famous “Mad Scene” aria with blood-stained clothes.

In the final scene, as Edgardo mourns his lost love, courtiers pass by and inform him of Lucia’s death. In a fit of rage and sorrow, Edgardo stabs himself to death so that he can be with Lucia in heaven.

Review:

Commonwealth Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor was extremely well put together. They set the action in the time period of the early 1700’s. The costumes and sets really created the atmosphere of the times. I found the scenery “refreshing” compared to all the innovations that have been done to the opera recently. The Metropolitan Opera has a very wonderful production set in the 1890’s, complete with a family picture taken during the wedding scene. By moving the action to the 1890’s you remove the ethereal belief in specters that is so integral to Lucia’s fragile mentality. I found it hard to believe that Lucia of 1890 would be afraid of ghosts as she would have been in the early 1700’s. Kudos to Commonwealth Opera for giving us an authentic production of Lucia!

The conductor, Ian Watson, paced the opening Preludio so very slow, slower than I’ve ever heard it, however, he was successful in creating the ethereal mood for what was about to happen. The chorus and singers, for the most part, sang very well. Special comments must be made about the role of Lucia, sung by Andrea Chenoweth. In the first part of the opera she acted so playfully. When she teased her companion, Alisa, her singing was luminous and beautifully lyrical. During the wedding contract, she repeatedly left the side of her new husband, finding her way over to Edgardo. His rebuff of her became all the more painful. When it was time for Lucia’s “Mad Scene,” I could not wait to see what she would do with it. Ms. Chenoweth did not disappoint. The special nuances of mental instability were incredibly apparent in her interpretation. She twitched, pulled continuously at her clothing and acted out the scenes from her life, embracing different people at the wedding feast as she thought they were someone else. This was a true tour de force, a feast for eyes and ears!

In the program notes, there was mention of the Wolf Crag Tower scene. However, that scene was not performed on Friday evening, May 7. I can only guess as to why not.

Commonwealth Opera under their new director Joseph Summer aims to put on quality productions with professional performers. They also are trying to pool resources together to save on administrative costs, another noble idea. I do hope they can succeed as we do not need to recreate the Metropolitan Opera, but it sure would be nice to have opera locally.

For me, the beautiful Northampton, MA is like a small piece of New York City with its many small shops and numerous bistros and restaurants with superb food. We met at Thorne’s Market and selected a fresh and healthy place to dine before the opera. After the opera we were surprised to see the town alive with people and nightlife. Our little group chose a wonderful Ice Cream shop that was packed with people and great ice cream. If your choice was Italian Pastries, there was place nearby for that too. Attending opera in Northampton has got to be one of the best hidden secrets in the area! I encourage people to attend Commonwealth Opera and dine and shop; or just visit Northampton, MA! Mark your calendars for Mozart’s Don Giovanni on November 19 and 21, 2010. Also make plans for Gounod’s Faust a year from now on May 6 and 7, 2011. Don’t miss out on a great place, great opera, and great times in Northampton!