Lucia di Lammermoor is the archetypical Romantic opera. The plot tells of a young love born despite the hatred of two rival families – a cruel brother, a forced marriage of the heroine, who loses her mind and kills her unwanted husband on her wedding night – while the music represents one of the peaks of Italian bel canto. As such, the success of a performance rests mostly on the shoulders of the two lovers-protagonists, and Zurich Opera have put together possibly the best two singers in this repertoire today.

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia) and Benjamin Bernheim (Edgardo)
© Toni Suter

Lisette Oropesa’s soprano, strong but silky, featured splendid silvery super-high notes, great coloratura and heart-melting filati, for an electrifying interpretation of Lucia. Her natural, spontaneous acting helped enliven a somewhat bratty teenager, overwhelmed by the emotional blackmail of her selfish brother Enrico, and the moral, religious obligations imposed by her mentor Raimondo. Her musical approach to Lucia had roots in the most solid tradition, with all the variations and “quirks” that opera lovers are accustomed to. This was a successful choice, as her vocal prowess is such to withstand the most blasphemous of comparisons.

Benjamin Bernheim was the perfect Romantic hero. His bright tenor, full of enamel and the right amount of metal, was put at the service of a passionate, enthusiastic, reckless Edgardo. High notes were exciting, lyrical moments moving, with beautiful mezza-voce, and his “Maledetto sia l’istante” was forceful, desperate and still elegant. The quintessential Romantic couple for the quintessential Romantic opera.

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia) and Massimo Cavalletti (Enrico)
© Toni Suter

The rest of the cast was somewhat less exciting. Massimo Cavalletti based his portrayal of Enrico, Lucia’s brother, on the volume of his voice and his professional know-how, more than a stylistically correct performance, at least at the beginning; as the evening progressed, he found the right accent and a more proper bel canto technique. Brent Michael Smith sang Raimondo with a pleasant, warm bass which showed a less than perfect breath technique, and a subdued quality. Andrew Owens was a luxury Arturo, Lucia’s groom; his high, secure tenor made an impression even in this small role.

Tatjana Gürbaca's production is based on a revolving stage (another one!) showing different, but very similar rooms (by Klaus Grunberg), mostly furnished by bedposts representing also gardens or graves. Gürbaca inserts into the story a psychoanalytical twist which doesn’t really fit with the style, nor the plot: the libretto tells us that Edgardo and Lucia first met when he saved her from a raging bull charging her, and Gürbaca personifies this bull as a predator molesting Lucia as a child. Alas, we also have child doubles of the main characters, an over-used trick which is becoming annoying.

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia)
© Toni Suter

Gürbaca’s incomprehensible choices are too many to mention. Arturo’s murder happens on stage, at the very beginning of the Mad Scene, in a tide of blood and violence. During the long harp introduction (Una Prelle) to Lucia’s first entrance, at the end of Enrico’s cabaletta, we see Enrico and his men frozen in place, while Lucia walks around them, hiding from her confidante, Alisa; she then proceeds to put her shoes in her pockets and keeps them there for the whole of “Regnava nel silenzio”. During Enrico and Edgardo’s duet, where they agree to a duel the next morning, each kept grabbing more and more preposterous weapons – when Enrico reached for a morning star, there were chuckles in the audience. It went on like this for the whole evening, making this production a bloody mess, as my colleague aptly called it in her review of the first run. The only idea I found successful was the slow-motion fight during the sextet: albeit not especially original, it gave a feeling of tragedy, but also of time standing still while each character reflected on the events in the concertato.

Benjamin Bernheim (Edgardo)
© Toni Suter

Andrea Sanguineti, at the baton of the Philharmonia Zürich, began with a somewhat loud, boisterous approach, often drowning the stage (which might explain Cavalletti’s loud and uneven beginning), but then he found a better sound, admirably accompanying the singers with great support and appropriate tempi. His conducting of the sextet was precise and exciting. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a glass harmonica in this run, but flautist Valeria Vertemati did an excellent job during the Mad Scene, her sound intertwining with Oropesa’s in a spiral of madness.

The chorus, prepared by Janko Kastelic, was very enjoyable in their many interventions, showing precision and elegance of phrasing. The evening was a triumph for Oropesa and Bernheim, with the often-restrained Zurich audience cheering with a standing ovation.