Being that the modern gift for a third anniversary is glass; perhaps it was only appropriate that Baltimore Concert Opera presented two sold-out performances this past weekend of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor that coincided with the third anniversary of BCO’s very first production. “Appropriate?” one may ask. Not only did they celebrate with great singers and piano accompaniment on their “home stage” at the Garrett Jacobs Mansion; they featured the unique glass armonica invented in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin. Even in their concert format, with no sets, costumes or orchestra, they live up to what General Director Brendan Cooke calls their motto of “being a gateway drug for opera.” Baltimore Concert Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor proved stunning in both musicianship and subtle dramatic performances.
Infamous for its mad scene, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor has many more points of beauty and exceptional composing for the voice and orchestra. The Act I scene at the fountain where Lucia is haunted by a maiden’s ghost foretelling her doomed love with Edgardo is an integral part of the story. Chorus Master and pianist, James Harp (also widely known as the Artistic Director of Lyric Opera Baltimore) captures not just the notes but the intricate textures and expression inherent in the score. He deftly phrases the rippling water for the audience before the text catches up. Sharon Cheng’s (Lucia) buoyant and lustrous soprano voice seemed at its most exquisite during Regnava nel silenzio. She performed the short coloratura passages as though truly trembling in front of the vision. Cheng’s Act II duet, Il pallor funesto, orrendo, with Nicholas Pallesen (Enrico) was balanced and offered some achingly caring interactions between the two. When it was finally time for Lucia’s Il dolce suono, the audience was at once anxious and impressed by the eerie combination of the glass armonica tones played by Dennis James and Cheng’s portrayal of the delusional bride.
Baltimore Concert Opera also welcomed home Maryland native, William Davenport (Edgardo.) Davenport’s skill in Bel Canto style is impressive. He demonstrated a much clearer grasp of Italianate diction than other cast members and held the audience, breathless, at some of his soaring, sustained notes. While the Edgardo/Lucia duet Qui di sposa eterna…Ah! Verranno a te sull’aure could have used much more dynamic balance; Davenport’s tenor was complemented by the velvety ribbon of bass sound from Matthew Curran’s Raimondo. Tim Augustin (Arturo) added his brightly robust voice to a wonderful cast including performances by Peter Scott Drackley (Normano) and Heather Kniotek-DeSimone (Alisa.) Another audience favorite, the Act II sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento featured each singer uniting their voices while isolating their emotions unencumbered by dress or décor.
It is often said that the only villains in Lucia di Lammermoor are the incidents and accidents of life. Donizetti forms the opera to be a long narrative climb to the climax. Each character feels justified in their attitudes and realizes only too late how they have contributed to her demise. This makes for a performance that is full of mystery, conflict, and heartbreak despite the fact that no one is physically holding a dagger. When performed this well, the larger heartbreak might be that there simply weren’t more performances.