It’s been eight years since English National Opera last revived this creepily gothic production of Donizetti’s tragedy, but with director David Alden returning to oversee the chills it scrubs up as brightly as any gorefest could hope to do.

While there’s no onstage killing in this Lucia di Lammermoor (unlike the fun in Katie Mitchell’s misjudged version for the Royal Opera), the aftermath of slaughter spatters everywhere. As well as blood, there’s a surprisingly flexible corpse – pre-rigor mortis, clearly – chunks of whom get plastered over the heroine as she launches into her mad scene.

Sarah Tynan (Lucia) © John Snelling
Sarah Tynan (Lucia)
© John Snelling

Sarah Tynan and Eleazar Rodriguez demonstrate why they are firm house favourites with knock-’em-dead performances as the doomed lovers in Sir Walter Scott’s melodrama. Both their voices ring forth with bel canto beauty. Tynan’s instrument may not be huge but it is nonetheless thrilling, thanks to her impeccable intonation and an effortless tessitura that she deploys with an actor’s intensity. And while the sound may not open out at big climaxes in the manner of an imperious diva, her timbre is a disturbing fit with the psychological turmoil churning inside this browbeaten character.

For his part, the Mexican tenor cuts a very different figure from the Almaviva who partnered Tynan’s Rosina in last year’s The Barber of Seville. The silken-toned Rodriguez has a charismatic stage presence and his extraordinary final scene came across as considerably more profound than Donizetti's epilogue can sometimes seem to be.

Stuart Stratford conducted a whirlwind account of the score and, some uncharacteristic fluffs notwithstanding, the ENO Orchestra responded to him with their customary verve. Has Donizetti’s glass harmonica ever sounded weirder than it did here, as played by Philip Alexander Marguerre during Lucia’s mad scene? It represented the splinters of a fragmenting mind more alarmingly than I can ever recall.

Eleazar Rodríguez (Edgardo), Sarah Tynan (Lucia) © John Snelling
Eleazar Rodríguez (Edgardo), Sarah Tynan (Lucia)
© John Snelling

Alden’s decision to place Lucia’s companion Alisa (Sarah Pring) at a dummy glass harmonica was one of very few missteps in a boldly Expressionistic production that solves most of the opera’s dramaturgical challenges. The director takes his cue from the opera's lugubrious opening bars to establish a whole world of interiority, wherein every image we see arises from the psyche of one or other of the protagonists. Adam Silverman lights Charles Edwards' semi-putrified monochrome sets with a requisite eeriness and joins him in representing the Ravenswood estate as an abstract capsule floating inside a black-as-night nowhere. Even when the stage is brightly illuminated we see no light beyond the windows, only shadowy figures (the matchless ENO Chorus) who peer through them and eventually clamber indoors like a shoal of spectral accusers.

When Lucia’s wicked sibling Enrico plies her with lies and guilt-trips her into marrying for money instead of love, Alden introduces startling visual counterparts to the conversation that imply, powerfully, a history of brother-sister abuse stretching back to their childhood. As he urges Lucia to yield (“Ah! cedi, cedi”), Lester Lynch’s gruff-toned but forthright Enrico ties her to the bed by her wrists. His oily factotum Normanno is sung with exemplary diction and finesse by Elgan Llŷr Thomas not as Scott’s military captain but as a snivelling jobsworth complete with briefcase and comb-over, while Clive Bayley chews the crumbling scenery as the complicit chaplain, Raimondo.

ENO hasn’t had much luck with translations of late, so it’s salutary to re-encounter Amanda Holden’s stylish and superbly judged English version of an opera that can so easily tip into bathos. It’s the sprig of nightshade on a blood-red confection that deserves nothing less than a run of full houses.

****1