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Chances to see Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" in Salt Lake City come around once a decade, even though it's one of the most listenable operas in the canon, with a story that is easy to follow (albeit grim). Utah Opera's recently opened production is well worth checking out not just for the novelty, but also because the singing and production values are uniformly strong.
Soprano Abigail Rethwisch made the biggest splash on opening night. Because Nicole Haslett, who was originally cast in the role of Lucia, fell ill and won't be able to perform until Wednesday at the earliest, Rethwisch a participant in the company's Resident Artist training program stepped in. She connected solidly with the character and her stratospherically high, dazzlingly florid music. The famous mad scene, which follows Lucia's (spoiler) fatal stabbing of the man her brother forces her to marry, electrified Saturday's crowd.
Baritone James Westman was vocally and physically imposing in the role of Enrico, the brother who sees Lucia's marriage to another nobleman as the only way to save the family fortune. Though the character is hardly sympathetic, Westman clearly portrayed the desperation driving Enrico's actions.
Tenor Mackenzie Whitney played Edgardo, Lucia's boyfriend, who is, of course, also her family's sworn enemy; he sang with power and ardor. Tenor Tyson Miller showed plenty of charm in his brief turn as the ill-fated bridegroom, Arturo, even rushing to check on Lucia when she collapsed at the end of the wedding ceremony.
Rounding out the solid cast were bass Derrick Parker as the kindly priest Raimondo, mezzo Aubrey Adams-McMillan as the maid Alisa, and tenor Christian Sanders as Enrico's henchman Normanno. The members of the Utah Opera Chorus sang beautifully and looked sharp in Susan Memmott Allred's handsome Cavalier-period costumes and Yancey J. Quick's wigs.
Donizetti's score gives most of the leads multiple opportunities to show off their vocal technique, but under Tom Diamond's stage direction and Gary Thor Wedow's baton, the duets and ensemble numbers were equally illuminating.
The famous sextet in the second act was operatic gold. Wedow also led the Utah Symphony in an exciting performance of the rich orchestral score, highlighted by the extended solos from harpist Matthew Tutsky and flutist Mercedes Smith. Robert O'Hearn's sets, artfully lighted by Nicholas Cavallaro, masterfully evoked 17th-century Scotland, with the musty scent of the fog machine adding an extra note of realism.
Utah Opera presents Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." The opera is sung in Italian, with English supertitles.
When • Reviewed Saturday, March 11; continues Monday, Wednesday and Friday, March 13, 15 and 17, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, 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.