Portland Opera preview: Lucia di Lammermoor

Portland Opera's Lucia di Lammormoor opens this weekend. Photo: Portland Opera/Ken Howard

Portland Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor opens this weekend. Photo: Portland Opera/Ken Howard.


Blood, raging madness, trysts, family feuds and a romantic tragedy that mirrors Romeo and Juliet’s eternally star-crossed story: those are the elements that have enticed audiences since 1835 to Lucia di Lammermoor, high-volume composer Gaetano Donizetti’s most-performed opera. Based on Sir Walter Scott’s popular 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, set in the 17th century, Lucia transports audiences to a dark world of moody Scottish moors, shadowy castles, manly duels and a third-act “mad scene” that ends in blood-soaked tragedy.

Propelling the plot is ebullient, fluid and harmonious music that defined Donizetti as a beloved composer during his day – and even today. His operas, especially Lucia and The Elixir of Love, are performed time and time again by companies around the world, including Portland Opera, which mounts it again for a two-weekend run that opens Friday at Keller Auditorium.

Critics say that Donizetti’s three-act opera—one of at least 70 that he wrote at a feverish pace in the first third of the 19th century—marked the beginning of romantic opera (think Puccini). It toned down the prevailing ultra-decorative bel canto singing, broadened the role of the chorus, and provided thoroughly entertaining theater.

Plot-wise, we’re in for the betrayals and reversals intrinsic to the inevitable triangle, though this time, one leg of the triangle is a brother, not a lover. Enrico, sung by Weston Hurt who appeared in PO’s Falstaff in 2013, is the bad-brother baritone who doesn’t want the soprano (his sister, Lucia) and the tenor (his family-feud-enemy, Edgardo) to get together. Making their PO debuts, Elizabeth Futral as Lucia and Scott Ramsay as Edgardo play the doomed lovers headed for a breakup perpetrated by a treacherous big brother. Anticipate fireworks: The New York Times called coloratura soprano Futral’s work “vocally luminous, emotionally vulnerable and brilliant.”

Fueling Enrico’s dirty work is a longtime family feud with Edgardo’s family. Besieged by betrayal, operatic complications and bad timing, Lucia is talked into marrying Arturo, one of her brother’s allies, performed by up-and-coming tenor Ian José Ramirez, one of PO’s resident artists. These budding singers primarily take on smaller roles and are usually a treat. Another, mezzo-soprano Melissa Fajardo, sings the role of Alisa.

Fajardo also gives one of PO’s always entertaining solo recitals Feb. 4 at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. Accompanied by PO chorus master Nicholas Fox, she’ll sing chamber works by celebrated opera composers Rossini, Britten and Bizet, as well as Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Songs.

PO last staged Lucia in 2004, but it was a different production. This season’s, created by James Robinson, premiered in 2001 at the Minnesota Opera. Christine Jones, who won a Tony Award for Spring Awakening, designed the sets, and costumes are by Constance Hoffman, who dressed PO’s characters in The Cunning Little Vixen in 2000.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, Lucia di Lammermoor opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Portland’s Keller Auditorium and continues for three other performances, including at 2 p.m. Sunday and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, and Saturday, Feb. 8. PO music director George Manahan, who conducted 2012’s Don Giovanni and 2010’s The Barber of Seville and Cosi fan Tutte, leads the orchestra, while Doug Scholz-Carlson, a newcomer to PO, is stage-directing. For more information and tickets, see www. portlandopera.org.

Angela Allen, who lives in Portland, writes about opera, photography, poetry and other arts.

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