When Katie Mitchell’s production of Donizetti’s Gothic masterpiece first appeared in 2016, it was not universally celebrated. This first revival, however, certainly should be. There is only one familiar face here from 2016 – Charles Castronovo who cuts quite a dash as the hero Edgardo and has a strong, lyric tenor. Perhaps most importantly, he gels with his Lucia, Lisette Oropesa whose performance is simply magnificent. The role is famously demanding. Forced into a marriage against her will to save the family fortune, for Lucia the second half of the opera runs through murder, miscarriage and madness. Oropesa is not only a thrilling singer, she is a thoroughly convincing actor caught in a finely judged physical and mental downward spiral.
Designer Vicki Mortimer forgoes kilts and Scottish baronial (though there are quite a few stag head trophies) in favour of sombre Victorian dress. Even the female members of the chorus are dressed in the same male costume. It’s just one sign of the dour oppressive power of the menfolk (Mitchell promised a feminist agenda) that stands in stark contrast to Lucia in her pale, later bloodstained, crinoline. The only other pale figure on stage is the ghost of one of Lucia’s ancestors (Sacha Plaige), who had been rather inconveniently murdered by one of Edgardo’s. She appears in her own bloodied white dress in almost every scene (bearing a strong resemblance to a corpse-bride Helena Bonham-Carter), her presence a commentary on the action, foreboding or accusatory.
And you see a lot more action than you would normally expect in this production with its stage split in half, one showing the main operatic action, the other what is happening behind the scenes. The background mostly, of course, concerns Lucia whose life is being planned by her brother and his allies to suit their own ends. This not only shines a light on Lucia’s life, it also animates what would have been some rather static scenes.
So we see Lucia and her maid dressing as men before Lucia meets Edgardo secretly in the crypt, Lucia being prepared for her wedding by her maid Alisa (Rachael Lloyd) and Lucia in the murder and miscarriage scene. In the original opera, this is all reported – nothing is seen. Here it is played out before the audience’s very eyes, from seeming sex games (Lucia blindfolding her hapless husband, Konu Kim, before she murders him) to the murder itself and the gory miscarriage that is the final trigger to her madness. This is all so graphic it’s hard to pay much attention to the scenes unfolding in the banqueting hall and billiard room next door until Lucia herself arrives, bloodstained, wild-eyed and interacting only with the ghost and the absent Edgardo.
Oropesa is thrilling here, meeting every challenge, and soaring through those stratospheric top notes. Even Lucia’s cruel brother (strongly sung by Christopher Maltman) softens at her pathetic state and, after her suicide, Edgardo rushes to her, taking his own life by her side.
Michele Mariotti conducts with a sensitive understanding and both orchestra and chorus perform with verve. The audience response was ecstatic on the first night – and that’s not surprising. This is a Lucia with some great performances and a true star in Lisette Oropesa.
Lucia di Lammermoor on the main stage at the Royal Opera House on selected dates until 27th November 2017. Production images by Stephen Cummiskey. For more information and tickets please visit the website.