The première of a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor was a much-anticipated event of the Hungarian State Opera’s season, not only for Lucia’s return into the repertoire of the company after a 13-year absence, but also for Klára Kolonits’ stage debut in the title role. While Kolonits certainly lived up to all expectations, the evening questioned whether Lucia really has a place in the HSO's repertory.

It’s only fitting that I start by praising Kolonits, for indeed, her tour de force performance was the gem in an otherwise rather bleak night. Her affinity and mastery of bel canto was unquestionable: fully in command of her gleaming soprano, Kolonits negotiated the most difficult passages and tossed out high E flats with ridiculous ease. Her mad scene, acted out with eerie intensity, was nothing short of a masterclass. Though at times one wished for clearer diction, her performance was absolutely thrilling.

It’s a shame she was so ill-matched by the rest of the cast. Her Edgardo, István Horváth, lacked the heft necessary for the part, and though his bright tenor blended pleasantly with Kolonits in their Act I duet, he was underwhelming later on. In the role of Enrico, Csaba Szegedi did not impress either, snarling through "Cruda, funesta smania", and only revealing a warm, resonant baritone in the duet with Lucia. Both Horváth and Szegedi had trouble projection and were regularly drowned out by the orchestra. Ironically, the two singers who gave the most consistent performances from the rest of the cast were those jumping in at the last minute: Antal Cseh, whose authoritative bass was well-suited for the role of Raimondo, and Szilvia Vörös, singing from the wings, delighting greatly with her sumptuous mezzo as the indisposed Ágnes Anna Kun acted the role of Alisa.

Sadly, under Balázs Kocsár, the orchestra’s performance proved underwhelming. Kocsár’s conducting was disjointed, with little sense of structure or drama, rather flaccid throughout Act I and only really perking up for the confrontation scene at the wedding.

Matters were not helped by Máté Szabó’s production. A barren stage framed by scaffolding and the Ashton men’s costumes, a curious mix of LARP and military gear (designed by Ildi Tihanyi), hinted at some post-apocalyptic setting, but the reason for his choice of setting remained unclear. Szabó showered down dry ice onto the stage to create a sinister atmosphere and creating tableaux by having the chorus crowd around a soloist and putting them into the spotlight; but both methods were overused, greatly diminishing their initial effect.

There were hints at the topics the director aimed to examine: violence against women (exemplified not only in Enrico’s treatment of Lucia, but also by the chorus at the wedding, with the men leading their partners in dance by grabbing and holding them by their neck or wrist) and different attitudes towards religion (rather unhealthily in Lucia’s case, who could be bullied by mentions of God by Raimondo and Enrico and compulsively crossed herself during  "Spargi d'amaro pianto", while Edgardo vehemently rejected the cross offered as consolation by Raimondo in the finale), but both remained underdeveloped. Well-definied characterisations were lacking, and the direction of the singers felt lax, resulting in a lot of park-and-bark delivery and some furniture abuse.

With Kolonits, the Hungarian State Opera has a singer around whom an entire bel canto revival could be built. She would certainly be capable of bringing the great Donizetti heroines to life. But it's troubling that the HSO seems unable to supply her with suitable partners, even for a warhorse such as Lucia.