The tragic opera of Lucia and Edgardo, who fall in love despite their familial rivalries, was composed by Donizetti in 1835 at the height of his career, basing the opera on the story by Sir Walter Scott. The heroine Lucia, forced by her brother to marry his political ally, goes insane and stabs her bridegroom only to succumb herself. Her lover, upon learning her death, stabs to himself to death.

Deutsche Oper Berlin's 35-year-old production is quite simple with painted background and limited props that faithfully reconstruct the 17th century Scottish castle and its surroundings. A screen depicting a fragile figure of Lucia in white dress surrounded by blue curtains is used during the overture, and the same screen comes down at every scene change. The principals and chorus are all dressed in the period costume, with men sporting their clans’ tartan sash. Given the traditional setting of the stage, there was limited scope for stage direction and character development, with the singers mostly engaged in the conventional “stand and bark” school. The singing this evening, from a cast of young International singers, was solid to stellar, a reminder that it is possible to enjoy an evening at the opera where genuine attention is paid not to the director’s concept but to the quality of musical performance.

Young conductor Daniel Cohen, newly appointed Kapellmeister of DO Berlin, led the performance at a deliberate and luxurious tempo which brought out the subtle beauty of the score.  His attention to each instrumental section, especially the crucial woodwinds, was immaculate, and the players responded to his cajoling splendidly. The flute solos accompanying Lucia’s Act 3 mad scene were appropriately haunting and forlorn, and the principal was rewarded with a special gesture from the grateful soprano and a solo bow. Mr. Cohen’s conducting skill was such that he was able to hold together the singers, chorus and orchestra in the complex Act 2 ending ensemble scene to bring the first half to an exciting conclusion.

Surrounded by four men who all have their own agenda, her brother, her lover, her spiritual adviser, and her finance, Lucia is an innocent pawn of the political intrigue and the true center of the tragedy. Her emotional turmoil is delineated early in the opera in her interaction with her lover in Act 1 and with her brother in Act 2.  Young South African soprano Pretty Yende seemed a little tentative in Lucia’s entrance aria “Regnava nel silenzio.”  Gradually her voice gained a warm glow that seemed characteristic of her voice, even in her high notes.  Her voice was not an acrobatic rapid fire coloratura but a natural extension of her high middle voice, and it only thinned out briefly at passaggio before opening up freely and gloriously.  

She was well matched by young Korean tenor Yosep Kang as Edgardo. Mr. Kang has a beautiful lyrical and supple voice which he used skillfully. He never pushed hard, even in the fury of his confrontation with Lucia at her wedding, but chose to sing with clean and smooth legato.   While one might wish for more dramatic and explosive power from Edgardo, Mr. Kang’s approach was also valid and served him well in the two fiendishly difficult tenor arias that come after Lucia’s mad scene, "Tombe degli avi miei” and "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali.”  His understated but sorrowful singing was beautifully executed, and he had plenty of reserve left at the end; one could imagine he was seeing an image of his beloved as he drew his last breath. Mr. Kang was spared the confrontation scene with Enrico, as the production omitted the Wolf’s Crag scene at the beginning of Act 3.  

Lulcia’s mad scene that immediately followed the brief festive scene is the true test of the coloratura soprano. Ms. Yende still needs to work on the interpretation of the role as her characterization was rather generic and lacked a true sense of identification with the heroine.  But she could sing splendidly!  What struck me as most distinct was the elegance and poise she displayed. Her lines were clean, her breath long and ample, and she was truly delightful while being technically solid.  She added ornamentations and interpolations towards the end, and hit the last high E flat with little difficulty. It was a show stopping performance. 

Marco Caria as Enrico, with his grainy and booming baritone, was a delightful counterpoint to Ms. Yende and Mr. Kang. He never barked but phrased the notes with emotional commitment.  Marko Mimica boasted a solid and at times elegant bass as Raimondo.  Attilio Glaser sang Arturo’s brief aria with good control of his warm tenor. But the evening belonged to Ms. Yende, ably supported by Mr. Kang and Mr. Cohen.