by Rod Parke -
SGN A&E Writer
Lucia di Lammermoor at Seattle Opera
Speight Jenkins, Seattle Opera director, can still work miracles. This time he's found two outstanding, young, attractive, and exciting sopranos who sing one of opera's most difficult roles with ease and beauty.
During rehearsals for Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, I had heard so many rumors about the wonderful singing of Davinia Rodriguez from the matinee cast that I assumed the opening night soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak, must be the weaker of the two. In fact, I was not looking forward to opening night; a less than wonderful soprano as Lucia can make for a pretty boring evening.
Well, don't ever go by what you hear from rehearsal rumors! Aleksandra Kurzak, in her first time as Lucia, scored the kind of triumph one seldom gets to witness - and not just for her singing. Oh yes, she has a gorgeous, warm, large, and perfectly controlled voice, with all the musicianship one could wish for. Her high E-flats were absolutely confident and so well-focused that, without great volume, they could easily be heard over the entire chorus and orchestra at full bore. And she has a real trill (rare these days) and accurate coloratura to burn.
But it was her acting in every scene that made this show unforgettable. It didn't hurt that she is also very pretty. She moved with athletic skill, even making me think at first that her balancing act on the rim of the ancient well was actually dangerous. And she did this while executing difficult runs and trills!
But the tour de force, of course, was the famous mad scene. Here she pushed acting and athletic moves to the extreme, rolling across the stage, singing a la Netrebko with her head hanging upside down on the stairs, threatening choristers with huge lunges with a big knife, among other feats. During these, her singing never showed the slightest compromise or fault. In fact, she made me feel that, while she showed incredible daring, taking risks at every opportunity, she was having a ball!
The audience went nuts, giving her the most enthusiastic ovation I have ever heard at Seattle Opera. What a way to debut a new role! Remember the name of this Polish soprano: Aleksandra Kurzak.
Davinia Rodriguez, from the Canary Islands, sang with as big a voice and technique (including the trill) as Kurzak, and she was also slim and beautiful. Her sound was less warm, but her top high E-flats were bigger. The only way she was less exciting was in her acting, which was thoroughly competent but much less convincing. Where Kurzak was daring and having fun, Rodriguez was a little nervous, even leaving out one easy phrase.
Even though the tenor, Edgardo, leaves town for significant portions of the opera, his role is scarcely less important, especially in the demands on the singer, who must sustain high tessitura and a perfect legato line throughout. In William Burden, the opening night cast had the perfect fit for these demands. Burden's attractive, youthful-sounding voice never lost its luster. He made the last scene, in which he sang two demanding arias, substantial and rewarding, despite following immediately after Lucia's spectacular mad scene and death. Scott Piper, in the matinee cast, sang musically but had difficulties above the staff until the difficult last scene. Suddenly he remembered how to focus his high notes, thus avoiding the insecurities of the earlier acts. His voice was attractive, and he acted with competence.
Enrico, Lucia's desperate brother, was the only mediocre element in either cast. Ljubomir Puakari? sang well with an ample, attractive voice, but acted in a wooden manner. The matinee cast Enrico was Philip Cutlip, from Ellensburg, WA. Struggling to be heard over the too-loud orchestra, Cutlip forced his young voice into a dangerous wobble, although his acting was more nuanced. Of equal importance was the role of Raimondo, here sung in both casts by the ever-wonderful bass of Arthur Woodley.
I've shot my wad, appropriately enough, on the two sopranos, to the exclusion of other worthy contributors. I will mention that the conductor making his Seattle debut, Bruno Cinquegrani, disappointed only in the often shaky coordination between the stage and the pit and in his occasionally swamping the minor soloists.
Sets, modified and recycled from the earlier I Puritani production, were quite nice and included between 80 and 100 steps! Performances continue through October 30.
Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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