Above : Giorgio Carduro as Enrico and John Longmuir as Arturo with the Opera Australia chorus. Photo: Prudence Upton                                                      Featured image : Jessica Pratt as Lucia and Michael Fabiano as Edgardo. Photo credit: Prudence Upton.

Opera Australia’s current production of the Italian opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti is a focussed and brooding affair. It is a triumph of the genre’s potential for tension and emotional tortures packaged in a visual, vocal and atmospheric spectacle. This is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, where it was first performed in 2011, and Teatro La Fenice. The opera is performed in a revival production with hypnotic tableaux and a rich musical interaction between orchestra and powerhouse voices.

It is a dark and dramatically delectable serving up of Donizetti’s streamlined retelling of the grisly tale of feuding Scottish clans and a manipulated female caught in the centre of family machinations. Such ominous themes and tales are taken from Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ from 1819. Salvatore Cammarano’s opera libretto was first heard in Donizetti’s work in 1835 and are here chillingly realised on our 2018 stage.

We follow the plight of Lucia di Lammermoor or Lucy Ashton and Edgardo di Ravenswood, or the  Scottish  Edgar Ravenswood. They are star-crossed lovers who met by chance on the misty landscape. Despite their families’  impenetrable hatred for each other they continue to meet in secret and  fall in love. When Lucy must follow instructions to save her faimily from financial ruin she marries a Lord after being told Edgardo no longer wants her. The results when this is found to be false are disastrous for her on a spectacular level.

This story has significant tensions and emotional displays. Scenes for solo, duet and full ensemble fleshing out of predicament which have made this opera an edge-of the seat event. The madness swamping Lucia at the end of the opera is indicated here from the outset with the dim murkiness and smothering clouds across the set.

As well as the powerfully dim and ominous lighting from designer Jane Cox, revival director Roger Press ensures the chorus move with dour diligence in slow processions and somewhat creepy formations as the mismatched and unforgiving natures of warring clans and a difficult environment are explored.

The momentum of Donizetti’s drama is added to with hypnotically slick processions of the chorus in mute moments across the space.  Scenes of various intimacy are at times performed in front of a solid  scrim dividing the stage with an alternating neat or more chaotic asymmetrical backdrop. This is  just one of designer Liz Ashcroft’s effective set creations to complement her costuming contrasts between the more opulently dressed principals and sombre hues of the chorus.

Conductor Carlo Montanaro leads the Opera Australia Orchestra in a fluid mixture of hushed sympathetic accompaniment as well as much more full playing where the drama of the vocalist’s lines and Donizetti’s music and intertwined on an exciting similar level. Musical textures where emphatic instrumental motives interject in key scenes also keep the musical event varied and headed keenly towards the terrible conclusion.

Above: Jessica Pratt in the ‘mad scene’ from Act Three.  Photo  credit : Prudence Upton.

A great Lucia with coloratura fireworks in the mad scene is needed for a satisfying performance of this opera. Audiences in Australia have enjoyed a fine history in this regard including the role being a favourite of Dame Joan Sutherland. Jessica Pratt brings her international success in this role to Sydney, complete with fine stage presence and a powerhouse voice delivering dramatic strength right through to the top register as well as amazing dfacility in the virtuosic flute-like coloratura filigree of the mad scene.

Hers is a Lucia whose chemistry with Michael Fabiano’s Edgardo is sizzling. Vocally they are well matched and their acting as well as movement is always believable. Their moving performance of the   duet ‘Sulla tomba che rinserra’ early in the story is contrasted well with the tragedy of Edgardo’s later bitter and violent exchanges. Fabiano’s Act Three aria ‘Tombe degli avi miei’ is a stellar moment for this singer and one of the many moments showcasing his voice and dramatic prowess.

Jan Ede is well characterised and in good voice as Lucia’s maid Alisa, chasing the murderess about the bloody stage in the third act. Lucia’s brother is presented with great desperation, severity and consistent vocal intensity by Giorgio Carduro. In arguably the finest outfit for a male principal, John Longmuir is a suitably dressed and admirably sung Lord Bucklaw. The sextet that ends Act Two benefits from the expert vocal work of these cast members.

This is a fresh production and satisfying promotion the realism and theatricality possible from a night at the opera. There is nothing misty and cold about the range of talent placed here in a somewhat timeless yet appropriate and challenging visual and musical entertainment.

Lucia di Lammermoor from Opera Australia continues at the Sydney Opera House until July 27.