Lucia Di Lammermoor - Opera Queensland

‘Lucia Di Lammermoor’ // Opera Queensland

Opera Queensland has brought a celebration of the Italian tradition of opera to Brisbane for the first time with its Bel Canto festival, hailed as the beginning of a “significant cultural event” for the city by Artistic Director Patrick Nolan.

The Bel Canto Festival traces its roots back to the early nineteenth century, amidst the flourishing of the Bel Canto style in Italian opera. Bel canto, which translates to ‘beautiful singing,’ became a dominant style in opera during this period, characterised by its emphasis on vocal virtuosity, expressive singing, and elaborate ornamentation.

‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ is one of the most famous and beloved operas in the bel canto repertoire, and opened the festival. It was composed by Gaetano Donizetti, with a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel ‘The Bride of Lammermoor.’ The opera premiered on 26 September 1835, at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy.

Lucia is forced into a political marriage but loves another. Her brother Enrico manipulates her into the marriage, leading Lucia to madness. Believing her true love, Edgardo, has betrayed her, she agrees to marry Arturo. On their wedding night, she murders Arturo in a fit of madness. Lucia then dies, Edgardo arrives too late to save her, and he kills himself in grief. The tragic tale explores themes of love, betrayal, and the destructive power of societal expectations, culminating in a heart-wrenching finale of love and loss amidst the Scottish Highlands.

The opera delves into timeless themes of love, betrayal, madness, and the struggle between individual desires and societal norms, captivating audiences with its emotional depth and universal resonance.

Opera Queensland’s rendition brings into sharp focus the acute skill required to vocally and emotionally execute the work. Direction by Patrick Nolan enabled the story and captivating lyricism to take centre stage. The choice to have subtitles projected on the wall behind the performers ensured that a second of onstage action was not missed. and what a shame it would have been to miss any of this work.

The set was as minimalist as they come, but anything further may have felt superfluous in contrast to the transcendent performances of the principal vocalists. Lighting design by Christine Felmingham was dramatic and transformative, painting the picture of the setting on the bare-bones stage. Felmingham’s design was masterfully effective in the moments when it is revealed that Lucia has murdered the man her brother, Enrico, forced her to marry, as the three walls of the box set are revealed to be blood-red, rather than wooden as the dimly lit backdrop conveyed until that point.

Jessica Pratt’s performance as Lucia must be seen to be believed. There are only three Australian sopranos to have performed this role at La Scala, the other two being Dame Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland, so it is no exaggeration to say that audiences lucky enough to witness Pratt’s performance are experiencing history in the making. Every soaring note was hit with dexterity and astonishing clarity, telling a story of a woman fighting for autonomy in a society that wills to use her as a currency, and the disastrous outcomes of this. The famous ‘mad scene’ was completely breathtaking, coupled with haunting costume design by Karen Crochet and Bianca Bulley.

Matching Pratt’s excellence is Carlos Bárcenas as Edgardo, her scorned lover. Balancing intimacy and dazzling power, his performance is deeply stirring. A balance of great acting and vocal talent can make or break opera for a 21st-century audience, but Bárcenas strikes this balance with ease.

Across the board, vocal performances were near-perfect from the 45-strong ensemble. Choral portions, directed by Narelle French were gothic and grandiose, particularly effective in their performance as the tombs of Edgardo’s ancestors.

Topping off this star-studded evening is the delightful Richard Mills AO conducting the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who are faultless in their delivery of Donizetti’s composition.

Other works in Opera Queensland’s Brisbane Bel Canto season include Gioachino Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater’, in collaboration with students from the Queensland Conservatorium, and Maggie Beer’s ‘Long Lunch’, a luncheon featuring soloists from Opera Queensland’s Bel Canto ensemble.

Opera Queensland must be commended for embarking on this celebration of the art form, bringing a centuries-old cultural phenomenon to the Brisbane stage. Audiences have a final chance to see Pratt in ‘Lucia Di Lammermoor’ on the 27th of April. Opera lovers should not miss this virtuosic performance.

Opera Queensland’s ‘Bel Canto’ runs until Saturday, 27 April 2024 at multiple venues across Brisbane. For more information, visit Opera Queensland’s website.

Related Articles