White-Trash “Lucia” at the MET

Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. Dramma tragico in three acts. 1835. Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, after Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor. First performance at the Teatro S Carlo, Naples, on 26th September 1835. Attended: 26th April 2022. MET, New York.

CONDUCTOR Riccardo Frizza; LUCIA Nadine Sierra; EDGARDO Javier Camarena; ENRICO Artur Ruciński; RAIMONDO Matthew RoseThe Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Attended by Robert Levine for Opera Gazet, 26 April, 2022

Drunken Brawls, Tasteless Clothing and Brutality – White-Trash “Lucia”

 

Music: 5*****
Drama: 1*

Offensive drabness

 

Well, it was bound to happen. Twenty-or-so years ago, when we New Yorkers read about Calixto Bieito’s production of Un ballo in Maschera for the Liceu in which the opening chorus featured men sitting on toilets, we felt certain that the conservative, traditional Met would never have to tolerate such junk. Then, in 2011, a new production of Gounod’s Faust was set right before World War II. Faust was a scientist working on the Atom Bomb; at the opera’s end the bomb detonates after Marguerite has walked up a staircase and disappeared.

But with the Met’s new Lucia di Lammermoor, we enter a new phase. The curtain rises and we see that we are re-located from late 18th century Scotland to a poor, wrecked mess of a town in what is sometimes called the “Rust Belt,” somewhere in the east or mid-west of the United States which fell into disrepair in the 1980s when the coal and steel industries that kept them alive either collapsed or re-located. This contemporary concept – the characters have cell phones – is by first-time Met director Simon Stone. The costumes by Alice Babidge and Blanca Anon feature skintight jeans and midriff-baring spangly top for Lucia, and a panoply of cheap-looking clothing for the rest – shocking pink and glittery green dresses, sloppy pants, work-clothes.

The constantly revolving set by Lizzie Clachan, consists of a pawn shop, a cheap motel, a tacky drive-thru pharmacy (at which, I believe, Lucia collects her methadone), the house in which Lucia and her brother live with a small front porch strewn with empty bottles and old living room furniture, an ATM machine, a food mart where Edgardo works (though he’s also a soldier on reserve), a water treatment plant in lieu of a fountain in a park (where Lucia recalls watching a girl die of a stomach wound, and who returns during her Mad Scene to haunt her), a blue, dented pick-up truck and three-or-so other battered vehicles with (oddly) their lights on, and – wait for it – a drive-in movie theater playing a 1947 Bob Hope – Dorothy Lamour film. The Wolf’s Crag scene and Ravenswood Cemetery are on the same ugly turntable. After you’ve seen all of these components spin around once and you marvel at the ingenuity of it all, you simply tire of its offensive drabness. Or you may be dazzled by the trashiness of it all. Lammermoor never looked so lousy.

Lucia
Nadine Sierra in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo Marty Sohl - Met Opera

Bashing Arturo’s head in with a fire extinguisher

But there’s more: the top half of the proscenium is taken up with a screen showing us either Lucia being followed around by a cameraman in real time, as if this were a reality TV show, or films of the cast doing things that differ from what is going on in real time, below. Where to look? Even if you find this entertaining rather than confusing and irritating, you’ll give up during the Mad Scene. Instead of focusing on Lucia’s terrible plight, blood-soaked from bashing Arturo’s head in with the fire extinguisher from the Motel room that served as their “honeymoon” suite, we are asked to watch close-up films of her happier days with Edgardo as well as the murder of the girl in the park.

The real sadness of this all is that musically, the show is a triumph. From the Arturo of Eric Ferring and the Normanno of Alok Kumar, both good, lyric tenors, to the sturdy Alisa of mezzo Deborah Nansteel, to Matthew Rose’s sonorous Raimondo, there wasn’t a musical moment gone wrong.

Lucia
Artur Ruciński as Enrico, Nadine Sierra as Lucia, and Deborah Nansteel as Alisa in a scene from Act III of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo Marty Sohl - Met Opera
Lucia
Artur Ruciński as Enrico and Eric Ferring as Arturo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo Marty Sohl - Met Opera

The brilliant sound of  Artur Rucinski

And the three principals were outstanding. The lovely Nadine Sierra, possessor of a full, warm, lyric soprano with fine coloratura and an impressive upper extension, gloried in this production tailored for her – what will the Met do with the films above the stage when she is no longer the Lucia? Her pretty, expressive face gives off real feelings – sadness, confusion and anger were all there. Her first act cavatina and cabaletta were handsomely dispatched despite our having to watch a complete stranger bleed to death on the screen above her. The Mad Scene – blood galore, no knife – was marvelous – and if the E flats were vaguely imperfect (a tad sharp and wiry), so what? It was a vocal tour de force, in an old-fashioned, pre-Callas and Sutherland sort of way. Javier Camarena’s Edgardo was the soul of passion, his bright, lyric voice wrapped about mid-range cavatinas and brilliant high notes. Not a large sound – more in the style of Alfredo Kraus than Domingo or Bergonzi – but one that is brilliantly focused and easily rose to the mania of the sextet’s finale. But the standout performance was the Enrico of Artur Rucinski. Moving with barely pent-up cat-like movements, pushing both men and women aside, drunk and sporting a big crucifix tattoo on his cheek, he fairly defined toxic masculinity. His brilliant sound, just the right size for Donizetti’s music, was fluent and pointed, and his endlessly held cadential high notes– the G at the close of his act one cabaletta lasted through the entire orchestral postlude and threatened to bleed into the Fountain Scene. The audience erupted in appreciation.

Riccardo Frizza, the director of the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, led an entirely persuasive show, with the Met orchestra playing at top form, from the horns at the start through the solos for Mariko Anraku (harp) and Friedrich Henirich Kern (glass harmonica), who made stand-out contributions. Tending towards quick tempi, this was a no nonsense Lucia, the recits were conversational and natural, the duets and ensembles ideally paced, and the singers allowed leeway without distorting the line. Several traditional cuts were opened, and bel canto fans delighted in the close of the “Verrano a te” duet where Edgardo took the written high E flat, and Lucia joined him on a high C. A thrilling sound.

Lucia
Artur Ruciński as Enrico and Nadine Sierra in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo Marty Sohl - Met Opera

Mr Stone’s ghastly condescension

In closing, here is the crux of this problematic production. It’s not the physical ugliness or the endlessly revolving turntable or the anachronisms or even the film above and the stage below which had the audience switching their gaze from high to low and back again. What’s really ghastly is Mr Stone’s condescension: In the Walter Scott/Salvatore Cammarano/Donizetti Lucia, we are dealing with a fine, previously well-off family laid low by financial matters which push the Ashtons to demand that Lucia marry a rich man to buoy up their coffers. Here, in Awfultown, USA, we have bullies and drunks, men with neck tattoos and worse, broken-down cars and broken-down people. Watching them is not to feel pity – at the opera’s premiere in 1835, many women wept at Lucia’s Mad Scene – now we are rubbernecking on the lower classes. It’s a ghastly sort of Reality TV, but vaguely worse: People dressed up in their finery at the opera house watching hopeless vulgarians fall to pieces.

Robert Levine
4.4 10 votes
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Robert Levine

REVIEWER

Robert Levine is music writer and editor. He initiated Amazon.com's classical CD store. Author of "Weep, Shudder, Die - A Guide to Loving Opera," "Maria Callas - A Musical Biography," and "A Child's Guide to the Orchestra".

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Kersten van den Berg
Kersten van den Berg
24 days ago

What about the reactions from the audience on this atmosphere and emotion killing trashiness?

ROBERT t LEVINE
ROBERT t LEVINE
23 days ago

There was some laughter, intermissions were filled with “I don’t know where to look – so much is happening;” “This is stupid – I want a real Lucia;” and “At least it’s not boring.” Like a Carnival!

Paul Topping
Paul Topping
9 days ago

The audience was very enthusiastic.

Daniel
Daniel
24 days ago

Did you ever fancy the idea that this sort of chaos and abundance of emotions added via video might heighten the absurdity and tragedy of the story? Or that this sort of innovation could make audiences consider the story in a different light, and bring more people to opera? Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean that the intent was not successful. There are a lot of things I don’t like but isn’t that the point of art—to show us something we would never consider or imagine? If you want to traditional there are taped versions of that. I… Read more »

Olivier Keegel
Admin
23 days ago
Reply to  Daniel

“To heighten the absurdity of the story”: never again an Il Trovatore without video !

Daniel C.
Daniel C.
21 days ago
Reply to  Olivier Keegel

With all do respect-what does Trovatore have anything to do with Lucia?

Olivier Keegel
Admin
21 days ago
Reply to  Daniel C.

If video “might heighten the absurdity of the story”, as you stated, then we definitely need a video for the most absurd opera story ever: Trovatore.


Kammersaenger
Kammersaenger
23 days ago

Mr. Levine, you have written an incredibly accurate review and I applaud you for this. Such a shame that in this day and time the great opera singers have no choice but to live with such trash conceptions like this Staging by Calixto Bieito. Somehow, I feel the stage directors of today think they are more important than the great singers that have worked a lifetime to perfect their voices to the standard to sing such repertoire. Such a shame and for me absolute disrespect for the Libretto, Singers and Composer. Shame on the Met and its’ entire management team.… Read more »

Michael Scarola
Michael Scarola
22 days ago

Thank you for your review, Mr. Levine. I have yet to see the production so will reserve my thoughts on it until I have. Just one correction I need to make. You wrote:
 
“Several traditional cuts were opened, and bel canto fans delighted in the close of the
“Verrano a te” duet where Edgardo took the written high E flat, and Lucia joined him on a high C. A thrilling sound.”
 
While you are correct that they sang (part of) the original cadenza, Ms. Sierra sang the high E-flat and Mr. Camarena sang the high C.
 
Best,
Mike

Paul Topping
Paul Topping
9 days ago

I don’t agree at all with this cranky review. I saw this performance yesterday and absolutely loved it. So did the rest of the audience, if to be judged
by the deafening bravos. Furthermore, the term “white trash” is insulting and outdated, much like Mr. Levine’s outdated attitude toward opera production.

Fred
Fred
9 days ago

Couldn’t someone who is presumably a college graduate come up with a less offensive and racist description, than “white trash?”

Kathryn Ryder
Kathryn Ryder
8 days ago

The Libretto makes several references to “Scotland” and “William and Mary” yet the staging places the action in contemporary America. Rather jarringly!

Jim
Jim
8 days ago

We were theRe. It was amazing. The applauses were long minutes. The criticism is a leftist garbage. When the opera goers have mostly gray/white hair, it is great to see a production which is more contemporary. Without such great productions the Met will die. Enough with the political correctness bullshit.

Evie
Evie
2 days ago
Reply to  Jim

How is condescension and contempt toward the disadvantaged “leftist garbage”? That’s more of a Republican thing, as they’ll proudly tell you themselves.

Malisma Agitata
Malisma Agitata
7 days ago

Mister Peter Yellow needs to stop cheap-selling opera, get rid of jerks like this Stone dude and start relying on great and expressive singing to “sell” the art form. To hell with those for whom that is not enough! Let them stick to rap videos! Meantime these director/phonies turn to staging opera because they can’t hack it directing “legitimate” theater pieces. They know nothing about opera, singing, or music and try to hide their ignorance and incompetence behind stupid “concepts” that insult the work and the singers. I suggest Lucia used the fire extinguisher on the wrong guy! But bravo… Read more »

LEE APT
6 days ago

LET THOSE WHO WANT TO WRECK TRADITIONAL OPERA, (AND BROADWAY TOO) WRITE THEIR OWN, INSTEAD OF RUINING TREASURES LIKE LUCIA, (OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL, AND WEST SIDE STORY – ALL TERRIBLE BWAY PRODUCTIONS). AS FOR THE MET – “RIGOLETTO” IN LAS VEGAS? ( GILDA’S BODY IN THE TRUNK OF A CADILLAC?) “COSI ” IN CONEY ISLAND? OK – CHANGE THE COSTUMING AND THE SETS – BUT STOP MESSING WITH THE STORY AND THE TIME IT WAS WRITTEN FOR, AND THE BEAUTY OF THE OPERAS. DO THEY HAVE TO BE MADE UGLY LIKE THIS ONE TO BE APPRECIATED BY THE YOUNG? I LEFT… Read more »

Olivier Keegel
Admin
5 days ago
Reply to  LEE APT

hear, hear !

Fred
Fred
5 days ago

Unless you would refer to oh, say, a bad production of “Porgy and Bess” as ghetto, then please refrain from referring to this or any other one as “white trash.” Yes, it’s racist.

Viktor Benditch
Viktor Benditch
2 days ago

With great sadness, I look at modern trends in the interpretation of genius operas of the past. The Operas remind me of helpless children or old people, whom no one can protect from the banditry of mediocrity. The list of encroachments on musical culture is extremely long. I’ll start with the most modest and seemingly harmless attacks. Let’s compare 1982 “ La Traviata” Franco Zeffirelli and 2005 “La Traviata” Brian Large. In both situations we see the brilliant artists on the stage. How gently treated the main character Zeffirelli and how rough Brian Large turned this character into a trivial… Read more »

Jowi
Jowi
4 hours ago

I think the assault on the setting is classism at its finest. We adamantly prefer our tragic opera to be set in beautiful castles or palatial homes After all, those settings we appreciate as upper crusts watching an upper crust go stale. I mean, who else could enjoy an opera? Why try to expand it’s appeal to a lumpen proletariat who doesn’t get that the coin of the opera realm is political power and morbid wealth preservation. Those machinations are truly tragically comfortable and worlds away from trailer parks and declasse middle class citizens. Who wants to watch the downwardly… Read more »