The Bayerische Staatsoper revived its 2015 production by Barbara Wysocka, setting the story of Lucia di Lammermoor in the US in the 1960s – the Kennedy era – with visual allusions to Jackie’s style in the women’s costumes, while Edgardo’s attire, and the cream Cadillac he’s driving, are clear references to James Dean. The staging consists of a single large room in the Ashtons' worn-down mansion, which serves also as Edgardo’s abode, when Enrico challenges him to a duel, and the Ravenswoods’ burial place, in the last scene. The change of era is probably meant to underline how arranged marriages, in certain social circles, were a thing of the not-so-distant past, and women’s agency in such matters was minimal. Still, setting the story in an age where a simple phone call between Lucia and Edgardo would have unravelled her brother’s scheme and avoided the following tragedy, makes the story hard to relate to, no matter how talented the singers are.

Juan Diego Flórez (Edgardo) and Venera Gimadieva (Lucia) © Wilfried Hösl
Juan Diego Flórez (Edgardo) and Venera Gimadieva (Lucia)
© Wilfried Hösl

And the singers were indeed talented. Juan Diego Flórez tackles his second Lucia, after his successful debut in Barcelona a few years ago, and his voice has grown even more suited to the role. His top register was as brilliant as ever: he generously gifted the audience with several exciting super-high notes, powerful and shiny. The most demanding listeners would probably find something lacking in the Act 2 finale where, perhaps, we are used to a stronger middle voice, and a more heroic take. But it is in the third act that he managed to truly shine, with a deep, heartfelt interpretation of the character of Edgardo in his confrontation with Enrico, and with a simply wonderful death scene, where his famed elegance and musicality carried him to heaven, to join his “bell’alma innamorata”.

Venera Gimadieva (Lucia) © Wilfried Hösl
Venera Gimadieva (Lucia)
© Wilfried Hösl

Young Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva was a perfect Lucia to Flórez’ Edgardo. Her voice exuded excitement and anticipation, with a brilliant, phosphorescent top register perfectly suited to the young girl in love. She made an effort in every musical phrase, finding different colours in her voice to suit each moment and the emotion. Nonetheless, her performance was quite natural and believable. Her very high notes showed an unusual “flowery” quality, a bubbly vibrato which may not be to everybody’s taste; I personally liked it a lot, I found it joyful and exciting. Her superbly sung Mad Scene was with glass-harmonica accompaniment, as written; no offence to the flautists, but I find this solution much better suited to the dramatic moment. The otherworldly, ghostly sound of the glass-harmonica, masterfully played by Sascha Reckert, was perfect to support Lucia’s descent into madness and death. At the curtain call, Gimadieva graciously made a point to kneeling towards the pit and shaking hands with Reckert, encouraging the audience to cheer him.

Enrico Ashton was sung by Mariusz Kwiecień, whose powerful baritone was very well suited to the raging, bullying character, but did not show much elegance, or adherence to bel canto canons. He also showed occasional intonation problems.

Venera Gimadieva (Lucia) and Mariusz Kwiecień (Enrico) © Wilfried Hösl
Venera Gimadieva (Lucia) and Mariusz Kwiecień (Enrico)
© Wilfried Hösl

Raimondo, the priest, was the Finnish bass Mika Kares, who made a strong impression. His voice is very well rooted in the lower register, and has the earthy, almost roaring quality typically associated with Slavic singers. But still, his solid technique and musicality managed to tame his voice into a beautiful bel canto instrument. His ventures into the high register, as well as the coloratura, were always elegant and perfectly supported, with a good sense of phrasing.

The Bayerisches Staatsorchester was under the baton of conductor Antonino Fogliani, whose reading of the score was solid, but not very inspired, with tempi always a bit too fast, giving a sense of rush and urgency. With a cast of this level, I wish he had dared more, giving more space to the singers, letting them lead, trusting their musicianship. Instead, at times, they were rushed, and clearly would have benefited from a more laid-back pace. This was particularly evident in the sextet, where not relaxing the tempo before the crash of cymbals should be a punishable offence.

The audience greeted the performance with warm cheers and ovations, sealing a well-deserved success.