Victoria Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

With the astonishing soprano Jessica Pratt in the title role, Victoria Opera have re-imagined the 1986 Opera Australia production of Lucia di Lammermoor made for Dame Joan Sutherland.

Jessica Pratt as Lucia, photo by Jeff Busby.
Jessica Pratt as Lucia, photo by Jeff Busby.

Gaetano Donizetti’s 1885 opera is set in Scotland in the 1700s. Lucia is in love with a handsome young dude (who wears black leather) , but is forced to marry the guy she doesn’t like (who wears powder blue satin with jewels and feathers) for the sake of her family. Misogyny, miscommunication, madness, blood, death, regret, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Australian Jessica Pratt is better known in Europe than her home country, and has performed the famous bel canto role 20 times around the world. She’s exquisite. In a room where you can hear her every breath and inflection, she makes every emotion in the music feel alive and palpable.

I’d love to see more opera in Her Majesty’s. In a space lets human voices sound like human voices, and conductor (and VO Artistic Director) Richard Mills creates a sound that must be what this opera would have sounded like 180 years ago. Every instrument and part – every part in the sextet at the end of Act 2 – can be heard for itself and its role in creating the whole. The chorus and orchestra are a wall of complex sound that support the principals. This is so different from spaces like the State Theatre that blur the complexity of live sound.

(Having said that, others told me that having a good seat helped.)

This is how opera should sound; it’s magnificent. Nonetheless, by staging an old production, too much of this Lucia supports the cliches that opera is dated, irrelevant and dull.

Even with a new lighting, the design of pillars and stairs would have felt dated in the 1980s. The costumes in hues of brown, green and beige – even the tartan – make every person who wears them look frumpy, uncomfortable and stuck in a community production of Brigadoon.

The direction, while working with the music and finding the heart of the characters, doesn’t look at the story though a 2016 lense. A mentally ill woman kills herself because her family don’t consider her to be worthy of consideration because she’s a woman. There are so many ways to make this story reflect now.

The music in this style of opera reflects genuine but highly exaggerated emotion. When performers try to match this extreme level, their performances can feel false and over done. The impression of love isn’t the same as showing love. The opera performances that have moved me are when on-stage emotion is held close, leaving the music to control the emotion, almost like a soundtrack. The music shows what’s going on in their heads and hearts, not what they are showing to the world.

None of which make Lucia di Lammermoor any less wonderful to listen to.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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