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Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor has universal appeal to audiences because it portrays an often-told story: the tragedy of a young woman who is the helpless pawn in the feud between her family and that of her lover. Lucia is forced to reject Edgardo, the man she loves, and marry the man her brother Enrico has chosen for her. Her conflict with her brother and her unrequited love for Edgardo, expressed through some of the most demanding singing of the nineteenth-century bel canto period, holds the attention of listeners from the opening scene to the final curtain. The excellent co-production of this great work by the Opera Company of North Carolina and the Asheville Lyric Opera allowed all its tragic circumstances and musical beauty to reach every member of the audience, from neophyte to seasoned opera lover.
Although the impressive sets and costumes, the scenes of conflict, and the pageantry of an important wedding in the great hall of the Lammermmors do much to engage the attention of an audience, it is the singing that secures this opera’s lasting reputation. There are no easy roles here, the most important being that of Lucia di Lammermoor, who must be a soprano capable of executing the most difficult coloratura passages in a voice of impressive range and power. If the singer is young, attractive and a superb actress as well, her success and that of the opera is assured. Certainly Talise Trevigne, here performing the role of Lucia, has all these qualities in abundance. Her great skill and her beauty transfixed her audience, and I, no less than anyone else present, was entranced by a voice that we will be hearing for many years to come.
Every scene in which Trevigne appeared was memorable, beginning with her first encounter with Edgardo, in which she begs him to keep their love secret and then joins with him in declaring their love before God, to her descent into madness after stabbing her bridegroom Arturo. This last scene is the epitome of Trevigne’s skill as singer and actress, as Lucia wanders about the stage in a blood-spattered gown, delirious, thinking that she has married Edgardo rather than Arturo, responding distractedly to the brief calls of the flute, singing melodies recalled from happier days, and finally collapsing with a final high note expressive of the anguish which has driven her to this state. I doubt that even Joan Sutherland in her best days could have done any better.
The men in this cast also offered distinguished performances. Tenor David Ossenfort as Edgardo was the ideal nineteenth-century romantic lover consumed by many passions, loving Lucia but able to turn on her when he thinks she has betrayed him, and willing to die by his own hand when he learns of his beloved’s death. His fine voice made all Edgardo’s torments very real, and he was especially effective in his angry encounters with the men who would separate him from Lucia. His final scene in the opera, perhaps intended to be parallel to Lucia’s mad scene, does not have the power to achieve this goal through no fault of his own: it seems to go on a bit too long and strains credibility because Donizetti tried too hard to arouse the audience's empathy with Edgardo's grief.
Two other men revealed great voices and strong acting ability in this production. James Taylor’s dramatic, powerful baritone was exactly the voice needed to convey the passions and arrogance of Enrico, Lucia’s scheming brother, who does not allow any love he might have for his sister to come between him and the achievement of his goal to marry her off to a man she does not love. Taylor managed to gain the audience’s immediate dislike in his first scene and intensified it throughout the opera, during which Enrico’s cruelty intensifies with the pain he inflicts on Lucia. Baritone Branch Fields as Lucia’s teacher and chaplain Raimondo offered a very credible performance as a man who cares deeply for her welfare but is not the man to challenge Enrico’s intentions, no matter how painful they will be to the sensitive girl Raimondo knows very well.
The excellent work of James Marvel, guest director, and Timothy Myers, guest conductor, was evident throughout the performance. I especially note Marvel’s careful touch in staging the encounters of the unfortunate lovers, especially the exchange of glances that suggest the deep feelings they share, and also the superb handling of the deranged Lucia’s movements and gestures in the mad scene. Myers’ meticulous handling of the orchestra, his constant awareness of the needs of the singers, and his successful efforts to make sure that everyone worked together revealed his great musicianship and made clear his total understanding of the complexities of opera performance.