Utah Opera’s 2016-2017 season has played to the moodier and dramatic side of human nature this year, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is no exception. This tale of a woman manipulated into turning her back on true love and marrying another has tragic consequences. Utah Opera added more drama to the production with a last-minute cast change.
Lucia di Lammermoor follows the tale of Lucia and her secret romance with Edgardo, who is also her brother Enrico’s bitter rival. Lucia and Edgardo get secretly engaged before he leaves the country. While he’s gone, Enrico conspires to have her marry Arturo, who will save the family name socially, politically and financially. Thinking her love has found another due to notes forged by her brother, Lucia ultimately agrees to marry Arturo. Moments after the ceremony Edgardo returns and, finding her now married to another man, casts her aside. This deception is too much for Lucia, who suffers a mental breakdown, murders Arturo on their wedding night and then dies. Out of grief, Edgardo kills himself as well.
This gothic tale certainly lends itself to the dramatic, and sometimes overly melodramatic, but Utah Opera’s production is subtle and smoldering, giving it a sense of humanity and realism that is grounded and well-crafted. The direction is thoughtful, but the production is still opulent, with grandiose sets, multiple scene changes, lush costuming and many members of the Utah Opera Chorus.
The original soprano lead was unable to perform and was replaced by Abigail Rethwisch, who is also one of Utah Opera’s Resident Artists. It is not often that a cover can take the place of the leading role so seamlessly, but Rethwisch was beautifully prepared to step into the spotlight. Her voice was bright with lovely depth in her mid-range. Rethwisch portrayed Lucia as an innocent, slowly learning the realities of the world. Her descent into madness was tender and heartbreaking.
James Westman, as her brother, Enrico, had a powerful voice and great balance between his affection for his sister, and his desire to ensure his own power. Mackenzie Whitney, as Edgardo, has some rough patches in the first act, but settled into the character a bit more as the show went on. Derrick Parker, who has been a frequent guest at Utah Opera had one of his best roles yet as Raimondo, Lucia’s chaplain and confidant. This role suited the depth of his voice remarkably well, and his acting was dramatic and moving.