Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is the most talked about new production of the Bavarian State Opera’s current season. Firstly, this is due to Barbara Wysocka’s staging, which is not free of controversy, and secondly to the fabulous casting, including Diana Damrau in the title role. Standard tickets have been sold out for weeks, and the performance on February 8th at 6pm will be streamed live on It’s worth tuning in for the sake of seeing some top quality performances from all of the musicians involved.

Wysocka sets the action in the Kennedy-era United States and thus is telling us that it’s not all that long ago that even in the so-called “civilised world”, forced marriages were part and parcel of society. While it may be that the compulsion is no longer as immediate and obvious as it once was, there are still specific areas of society where unwritten laws apply what should be the characteristics of a prospective bride or bridegroom – and what they would be better without. For Lucia di Lammermoor, therefore, the crucially desirable feature of her prospective husband Lord Arturo Bucklaw is that he be endowed with the financial means to save the Ashton family from the ruin that faces them.


Donizetti’s work is one the summits of the bel canto style and serves as the archetype of a romantic opera. Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko has been particularly diligent in working through the score with orchestra and singers, which has resulted in a self-consistent and sophisticated piece of music theatre. Worth of special mention were the balanced brass sound and (even more so) the commanding horns, which play out a tragic role in this musical masterpiece. And when discussing the evening’s vocal performances, one shouldn’t forget Stellario Fagone’s leadership of the chorus, that was rightly lauded by the audience. Both Rachael Wilson as Alisa and Dean Power as Normanno gave an excellent account of their roles, as did Italian tenor Emmanuele D’Aguanno as Arturo.

Georg Zeppenfeld was outstanding not only for his well groomed bass but also for his acting skills in playing Lucia’s tutor Raimondo Bidebent. Zeppenfeld employed his elegant voice in its full range of vocal colours and his phrasing was exceptionally finely judged. As Lord Enrico Ashton, Lucia’s brother, Luca Salsi played one of the largest roles, giving an especially dramatic emotional development of his character from its starting point of the self-centred patriarch. After his sister has lost her wits and murdered her bridegroom Arturo, he is wracked by remorse both out of sympathy for Lucia and for himself. Salsi did an excellent job of developing the character as well as singing in an exquisite bel canto that was a high point of the evening. Pavol Breslik played Lucia’s lover Sir Edgardo. His musical performance was equally good, albeit his acting was sometimes eclipsed by his partner Diana Damrau.

But nothing in the evening surpassed Diana Damrau’s overwhelming portrayal of Lucia, who embodies one of the most complex, pathological personalities in opera. Damrau sang as if she came from a different planet. Need it be said that her aria in the mad scene (“Il dolce suono”), which was accompanied, as prescribed in the original score, by a glass harmonica and not by the more usual flute, has seldom sounded so gripping or been so convincingly put across? The audience were on the edge of their seats biting their nails, while this screamingly tragic woman broke free of her family and society chains as she descended into madness. And then, the Munich audience could stay in their seats no longer.

Translated from German by David Karlin