‘Lucia’, Your First Best Worst Opera

Romeo and Juliet in Scotland.  That is the easiest way to sum up Gaetano Donizetti’s dramatic opera, Lucia di Lammermoor.

It is, perhaps, unfair to summarize this opera so succinctly, when it is so famous, so much a “classic” of the opera genre.  Following the links on Wikipedia, I learned that Lucia was based on a Waverly novel by Sir Walter Scott – The Bride of Lammermoor – which in turn was apparently based on true events.  That might explain why it is somewhat more credible, and more compelling, than Romeo and Juliet, even though the plot runs nearly parallel.

The Ashton family is archenemies with the Ravenswood family (what a splendid name!).  As these things go, Lucia Ashton (Anna Netrebko) falls in love with Edgardo Ravenswood (Piotr Beczala).  She happens to have a brother, Enrico (Mariusz Kwiecien), and because he is a baritone, we know whose side he’s not on.  Taking her love for Edgardo as a betrayal, Enrico schemes to force his sister into a marriage to Lord Arturo Bucklaw, a political ally.  It does not get better from there.

The story is dreadful in every way, while the music is wonderful.  Unfortunately, I had watched all the best clips before watching the whole opera, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.  The themes are stirringly beautiful, from the most well-known group number “Chi mi frena in tal momento” to the duet
“O sole, più ratto,” with its bloodthirsty lyrics and (oddly) cheerful melody.  I was constantly torn between shuddering at the storyline and savoring the beautiful music.  Maybe if Romeo and Juliet had been a bel canto opera, I would have liked it, too.

I’m no opera critic.  I thought the performances, by the same trio that starred in Eugene Onegin, were great.  Kwiecien played an absolutely sinister, psycho brother, and Beczala again sang the well-intentioned hero character with sincerity and emotion.  I’m not sure Lucia is Netrebko’s role, but she did an excellent job as far as I could tell, lending some reality to a role that would be hard to portray.  I always like her heartfelt interpretations, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in Iolanta in February.

The costumes and setting were well done.  It did bother me that they were historically impossible – that is, this production is set well after the historical events that are supposed to coincide with it.  However, this is a common fault of modern productions and can (kind of) be overlooked.

Honestly, Lucia is as dramatic, dark, and dreary as 19th century operas get, and yet if that doesn’t phase you, I would recommend it as a first opera.  It’s the most fast-paced opera I have seen; it feels shorter than most, even though it isn’t.  The music is great and the performances are great.  It’s a staple of opera repertoire, and you’ll want to see it eventually if you get into opera at all.  Zero stars for the plot, five stars for everything else.

The "Gloria Scott"

– but first, let me wish you all a (belated) Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

I’m sorry I haven’t posted very much.  It’s been a strange year from start to finish and, very sadly, less bookish than I had planned.  Pretty much the only challenge I completed (apart from Onegin) was o’s Russian Literature 2014 challenge, and even there, I only read Dostoyevsky and Pushkin.  
That said, for a slow year, I’m glad to have read The Brothers Karamazov and Lord Jim, which had seemed so inaccessible before.  I hope to do better next year, but am not making any grand commitments…

There’s one challenge I’m carrying over, and that’s re-reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes.  I haven’t read it in its entirety in about ten years.  It’s a joy to come back to my favorite character in all literature, and I’m reading chronologically this time, following this list which looks pretty good.  (There was a day I would have figured out the timeline on my own, but nowadays finding time is not so easy.)

I’m going to keep these commentaries short and sweet and hopefully frequent.  I will try my best not to post mystery-related spoilers!  Here’s the first segment, “The Adventure of the ‘Gloria Scott'” . . .

Holmes himself says that the “Gloria Scott” was the “first [case] in which I was ever engaged.”  It is instantly interesting that he has these feelings of nostalgia, and he, in fact, is insistent that Watson listens to the story of his first investigation.

He goes so far as to describe his “two years” at college in a couple of paragraphs, where we learn his interests and studies were so different than everyone else’s that he had nothing in common with anyone.  He made one friend, Victor Trevor, and that by accident (a most literal accident).  Holmes inadvertently depicts his own listlessness by describing the opposite trait in Trevor, and through these bits and pieces we get a pretty clear understanding of Holmes before his meeting Watson.  There is, in fact, a very telling parallel between his befriending Trevor and his befriending Watson – they were both someone Holmes could talk to.

The rest of this story is about the mystery of Trevor’s father.  It’s not the most thrilling Doyle plot, but two things are interesting about it:

  1. how Doyle writes a sea story, tapping into his experiences as a ship’s surgeon
  2. how Holmes interacts with acquaintances
// Spoilers in white

It’s particularly depressing that Holmes ends up losing his friend through the very science of deduction that he makes his livelihood.  By the end of telling the story, too, Holmes has come back to “real life,” the cut and dry of the “facts of the case,” and calling Watson “Doctor” with (what seems to me) audible stoicism.  
// End spoilers

These brush strokes of word-painting are something I doubt Doyle thought twice about – he had a true gift for writing characters in few words.  “The Gloria Scott” speaks a great deal about the character of Holmes, and that makes it worth a re-read.