Mourning Sickness

Mourning Sickness

 Lucia di Lammermoor; tragic opera in three acts, music composed by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, directed by Katie Mitchell, conductor Michele Mariotti, Royal Opera, 30th October 2017, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Jealousy and a thirst for bloody revenge were evidently family characteristics at Ravenswood Tower. For as Lucia herself informs us, a Ravenswood once stabbed his sweetheart to death at the Fountain of the Siren. Indeed, the poor girl’s ghost continues to haunt Lucia as does the ghost of her mother. This production is something of a “Gothic nightmare”, to quote Mary Ann Smart’s apt phrase in the official programme (‘Case Study or Gothic Nightmare?’)

Salvadore Cammarano’s libretto cried out for a feminist interpretation, although, as Diana Wallace observes, the “persecuted heroine” was already a well established trope (official programme, ‘Gothic Histories and Gothic Heroines’). Evidently men use and abuse women and ultimately drive them mad. The intrepid Edgardo, the Master of Ravenswood, once saved Lucia from a raging bull. But indicatively, he subsequently lammed it to France on important men’s business, leaving Lucia up the duff. As in La Traviata, a female member of the family is required to sacrifice herself for the benefit of an alpha male, to wit, her brother Enrico. A forged letter, supposedly from the distant beloved, serves to befuddle Lucia.

Mitchell’s device of a split screen facilitates a series of pointed comparisons and contrasts 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. The director does not shy away from graphic depictions of Lucia’s morning sickness, miscarriage and suicide, not to mention the hapless Arturo’s murder. Blood will have blood. At times, verissimo borders on voyeurism. We also have bondage and cross-dressing. But were these elements intended by the novelist/librettist or are they a post-modernist bolt-on?

Soprano Lisette Oropesa as Lucia, in this her Royal Opera debut, is a technically very gifted singer and she deservedly drew spontaneous applause, especially in the mad scene. Another stand out performance was that of the Italian bass Michele Pertusi, in the role of the hypocritical Calvinist chaplain Raimondo Bidement. Tenor Charles Castronovo excelled as Edgar. We only have one minor complaint. Why no glass harmonica, whose eerie sound perfectly captures Lucia’s mental fragility and emotional lability?

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

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