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Utah Opera takes on the case of the reluctant bride

Published March 9, 2017 8:58 am

Utah Opera • "Lucia di Lammermoor" is the tuneful tale of an arranged marriage from hell.
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And you thought your prospective in-laws were intimidating.

In Gaetano Donizetti's classic opera "Lucia di Lammermoor," not only must the young Scottish lovers Lucia and Edgardo grapple with their families' long-running feud, they also have her brother, Enrico, actively plotting against them and even manufacturing evidence of Edgardo's alleged infidelity to drive them apart. Enrico is desperate for Lucia to marry the better-positioned nobleman Arturo for the sake of the family's fading fortune. Is it any wonder Lucia has a nervous breakdown on her wedding night?

"Lucia is extremely passionate and also, often, one-track-minded," said soprano Nicole Haslett, who will sing the title role in Utah Opera's upcoming production of "Lucia di Lammermoor." It isn't that the teenage noblewoman disrespects her family; she just loves Edgardo deeply.

Her brother has an equally forceful personality, said baritone James Westman, who will portray Enrico. "But nothing I do is for love," he said of his character. "It's a struggle for power."

"Power, for him, is survival," director Tom Diamond added.

Though Lucia has one of the most celebrated mad scenes in all of opera, "I don't think she's necessarily someone who's mentally ill," Haslett said. "She snaps. …

"Anyone could sort of see red and lose herself and commit a violent act," the soprano said. "I've never stabbed someone, but I have lost myself."

"You don't have to kill someone to play a killer, but you have to imagine it," Diamond said. "If you can say that to yourself and believe it, you can play any role."

Westman joked that his wife prefers to visit him when he's playing a villain because it leaves him in the best of moods offstage. "I get everything out onstage," he said. It is emotionally demanding to play someone who commits evil deeds night after night, but "I have to go there every time. If not, you become complacent. It's got to be real every time."

Donizetti and his librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, based their opera loosely on Sir Walter Scott's novel "The Bride of Lammermoor," which in turn was based loosely on the true 17th-century tale of reluctant bride Janet Dalrymple. When the opera premiered in 1835, the mad scene "kind of freaked people out," said conductor Gary Thor Wedow. "They were just coming out of the Age of Enlightenment and people were not supposed to act like this. It made people very nervous."

Wedow will be conducting from a new critical edition of the score. "It's very exciting," he said. "[This edition[ has only been around for a few years."

Though you'd have to be a hard-core operaphile to identify all the differences, the overall orchestra sound is lighter. Interpretations of "Lucia" had become weightier over the years, Wedow noted, thanks partly to Verdi's influence on opera. "We look at music backward through a lens, so we were seeing Donizetti through Verdi. But Verdi hadn't been invented yet."

The leaner score "will suit the theater better; it will suit the cast better," the conductor said. "It's like — what did they do to the Sistine Chapel? They scraped away the grit and grime. So we're able to see what Donizetti originally intended, which is kind of different from the 'Lucia' we've been doing."

"Without the fluff that's been added [over nearly two centuries of performance], it's terribly exciting and clean," Westman said.

Not that it will sound exactly as it did on opening night. The cadenza that pairs the soprano with a solo flute, which features so prominently in the mad scene, was added later — probably at the behest of diva Nellie Melba near the end of the 19th century, Wedow said. "You can't do 'Lucia' without the flute cadenza. … So it's original Donizetti, but with some favorite traditional ornaments that have come along."

Cadenza or no cadenza, there is no denying Donizetti's compositional skill, the conductor said. "Donizetti was a wonderful orchestrator. … There are highlights for everyone." This opera is also a treat for the singers, who get to show off all the colors of their voices, Westman and Haslett said.

"It is bel canto," Diamond said, referring to the school of Italian composition whose name means "beautiful singing."

"There's some drama to support the beautiful voice," the director said, "but really, what's on display here is the human voice." —

Forever plaid

P Utah Opera presents Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." The opera is sung in Italian, with English supertitles.

When • Opens Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; evening performances continue March 13, 15 and 17, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 19

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

In a nutshell • Lucia and Edgardo are in love. But Edgardo is the sworn enemy of Lucia's family, and her brother, Enrico, wants to force her into a more advantageous marriage. It ends even worse than you'd think.

Tickets • $21-$103; utahopera.org

Running time • 3 hours, including two intermissions

Learn more • Principal coach Carol Anderson will lecture an hour before curtain, and artistic director Christopher McBeth will lead a post-performance Q&A; all are in the Capitol Room on the theater's west side. In addition, an online course is available at utahopera.org/onlinelearning.






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