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Lucky Sevens

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
11/11/2017 -  & November 12*, 14, 17, 18 (Miami), 30, December 2 (Fort Lauderdale), 2017
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Anna Christy/Haeran Hong* (Lucia), Joshua Guerrero/Jesus León* (Edgardo), Troy Cook*/Trevor Scheunemann (Enrico), Simon Dyer*/Kristopher Irmiter (Raimondo), Dominick Corbacio (Normanno), Mary Beth Nelson (Alisa), Benjamin Werley*/Chaz’men Williams-Ali* (Arturo)
Florida Grand Opera Chorus, Katherine Kozak (chorus master), Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Alexander Polianichko (conductor)
John Doyle (production) Elise Sandell (director), Liz Ashcroft (scenic and costume design), Michael James Clark (lighting design)

H. Hong (© Ben Werley)

Sharing reactions of an opera performance can make one’s appreciation of it, whether positive or negative, more intense. I was lucky enough to dine with a group of people after a performance of one of opera’s most beloved pieces; one had seen it as long ago as with Lily Pons and some others had never heard of it before purchasing a ticket. Their reactions were unanimous in the fact that they loved the singing. The production, however, yielded conflicting reactions.

There is no question that the production’s concept was strong and honest. Scotland’s dreary climate of clouds and dark skies is unrelenting. Just when a panel of brightness attempts to break through, another with depressing sky greets the audience.

Maybe it sounds boring, but that is the point. The gloominess of the climate provides the setting when a young couple finds passion with each other and must struggle to combat the forces seeking to destroy their love.

Those who still linger in opera’s past glory of stunning visual beauty can easily be frustrated by this overwhelming drabness. The few moments when beautiful refined colors sneak through are always in the costumes. But in the wedding scene, the somberness becomes even more intense, signaling that this marriage is not going to be a happy one.

Many of us have never found Lucia to be exactly a sad opera. That is something the music foretells in the opening prelude, so the plot doesn’t really ever provide any shockers, though Lucia’s mad scene can still be jarring when a soprano with the intensity of a singer like Haeran Hong plays this tragic heroine.

Vocally she is the highlight of this production. The sweetness in the voice creates a most charming woman. All of the adjectives for a young beauty come through in her opening scene with Alisa, her attendant. The control was simply amazing; her singing never forced yet the volume always exacting. No matter how many Lucia mad scenes you may have encounter, Hong’s was especially memorable, exuding grace even when covered in blood.

As her lover, Edgardo, Jesus León, harkens back to older recordings we have heard; just an exquisite sound both youthful and boyishly masculine. From his first entrance he commanded never upstaging his lover. The couple’s intense need to fight the surrounding depression gives this production its force. At this time, it is hard to imagine León’s art outside of bel canto, so hopefully he will get the opportunity to resurrect these often overlooked roles.

Former Florida Grand Opera’s young artist, Troy Cook, cut an unusually dapper looking Enrico. The voice took a moment to warm up but he soon gave “Crude funesta smania” and its caballetta with dignified and intense command. Enrico’s fear at losing his station was evident but Cook demonstrated fierce shame for how he had treated his sister.

Simon Dyer’s chaplain presented an interesting physical onstage presence, but his lack of legato provided an especially mushy sound. Raimondo gives an essential dimension to this opera which Dyer was unable to find.

The small tenor roles of Normanno and Arturo were more than capably handled both with strong singing and acting by Dominic Corbaccio and Berjamin Werley. The direction made clear that without Normanno, the tragedy would not be as successfully achieved without this henchman’s quiet conniving.

Once again the outstanding Florida Grand Opera chorus was strong and precise; with Elise Sandell’s stage blocking (sometimes obtrusive) this chorus does not just park and bark. The wedding scene was particularly unnerving in its severity.

Alexander Polianichko conducted a sensitive emotional performance finding all the score’s sometimes overlooked colors. It seemed a shame that the famous sextet was taken at such a brisk pace though it was refreshing to hear “fur le nozze a lei funeste” presented at a proper tempo often slowed down on recordings.

For non-musicians like myself who best know Lucia di Lammermoor through recording, it seems clear that Polianichko decided to follow Donizetti’s score without allowing for interpolated high notes. In an age with fewer stars needing to show off, this trend to preserve the composer’s intentions is eye-opening. Too bad the conductor didn’t go a step further and insert the usually omitted “Wolf’s Craig” scene which gives Lucia di Lammermoor a much richer and complete ending. A fine opening for Florida Grand Opera’s 77th season.

Jeff Haller



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