Mourning Sickness Again

Katie Mitchell, credit Wikipedia

Mourning Sickness Again

Lucia Di Lammermoor, Drama Tragico in three acts, Music by Gaetano Donizetti, Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, Royal Opera 30 April 2024, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti, Director Katie Mitchell, Revival Director Robin Tebbutt, reviewed by Leslie Jones

QR reviewed the first revival of Katie Mitchell’s searing production of Lucia di Lammermoor (see Leslie Jones, ‘Mourning Sickness’, November 3rd 2017). Seven years on, how does it fare? Certain impressions persist. The device of a split stage still works. It facilitates a “series of pointed comparisons and contrasts” between the public and private domains, and, as in Act 111, scene 2, between “the suits in their patriarchal spaces, such as the billiard room” and Lucia and her companion Alisa “in the privacy of her bedroom, closet and bathroom”. On second viewing, however, the almost omnipresent ghosts of  Lucia’s mother and of the Lammermoor girl, murdered by one of Edgardo’s ancestors (and dressed like a doll), who move across the stage like automata, increasingly grate.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor tells a tale of ill-fated love that ultimately fails to withstand the vindictive hatred and machinations of two warring families; in the latter case, the Ashtons, headed by Enrico, and the Ravenswood tribe, led by Edgardo. Enrico Ashton’s family fortunes are in dire case. Calvinist chaplain Raimondo Bidebent (played on this occasion by South Korean bass Insung Sim) is enlisted to pressure Lucia into marrying Arturo Bucklaw, a wealthy local gentleman. Bidebent reminds Lucia of her obligation to her dead mother and claims that Heaven will reward her sacrifice. Materialistic family values are compounded here by religious hypocrisy. And there are echoes of La Traviata, when the courtesan Violetta Valéry is persuaded to sacrifice her hopes of happiness with Alfredo by his father Giorgio Germont, determined to protect his daughter’s marriage prospects.

The role of Lucia is one of the most challenging soprano roles in the operatic repertoire. Rachael Lloyd rose to the challenge with aplomb. Pyrotechnics aside, we found her performance in the denouement deeply moving.

Katie Mitchell’s take on Donizetti’s masterpiece manifestly has it all; cross dressing, bondage, murder, mental derangement, suicides, a bloody miscarriage, morning sickness. We are born, as St Augustine reminds us, between urine and faeces. In an ambivalent but perceptive review, Mike Hardy acknowledges that Mitchell’s production is “beautifully sung”. But he considers that “its staging and direction are frequently and gratuitously barbarous and brutish” (see Mike Hardy, Opera Wire, April 25, 2024). Succinctly said – we concur.

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of Quarterly Review

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