Best to announce it at the beginning: those of you hoping the first revival of Katie Mitchell’s 2016 production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera has expanded on the dubious flings of passion in the graveyard will be sorely disappointed. The wilder excesses of Mitchell’s production – faulty taps, wanton fumblings etc – have been honed to allow her best ideas to shine.

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia), Konu Kim (Arturo), Rachael Lloyd (Alisa), Charles Castronovo (Edgardo) © ROH | Stephen Cummiskey
Lisette Oropesa (Lucia), Konu Kim (Arturo), Rachael Lloyd (Alisa), Charles Castronovo (Edgardo)
© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey

Two aspects really stood out in the original run: firstly the split screen approach which showed, for example, Lucia’s bedchamber and her murder of Arturo on one side of the stage while the men played billiards in the other and, secondly, the concept that Lucia’s descent into madness was caused not by the murder, but by the subsequent miscarriage of the baby conceived during, one presumes, a graveyard tryst with Edgardo. The split screen approach is rewarding in one sense, although Donizetti purists will remain outraged by the ‘plot filler’ mechanism, but it is also tremendously distracting, with unsung action like the murder scene drawing attention away from those actually performing the music. In the wrong hands, the miscarriage concept could have been tawdry, but through capable direction and the deeply moving physicality of soprano Lisette Oropesa, it came across as a strong and believable interpretation. Vicki Mortimer’s sets remain impressive, though the split screen means that ensemble scenes are often uncomfortably cramped, while the wandering ghosts – emphasising the work's Gothic heritage – are an eerie, if perplexing, presence.

Rachael Lloyd (Alisa) and Lisette Oropesa (Lucia) © ROH | Stephen Cummiskey
Rachael Lloyd (Alisa) and Lisette Oropesa (Lucia)
© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey

Oropesa made a strong impression at Glyndebourne this year in a far more light-hearted Donizetti opera. Here, she was on fine vocal form, with those trills that you crave from the role generous and fluid. High notes felt a little worked for in the very early scenes, but they were always accurate and certainly by the climactic mad scene, she was in total control of the voice, floating the notes, spinning phrases and generally showing off a vocal technique that’s ripe for further bel canto exploration. She showed an engaging stage presence as well, embodying Mitchell’s feminist spin on the work in her scene with Enrico prior to the wedding when her sparky Lucia is sacrificed for the politics of men. Where Oropesa could do with a tad more focus is bringing that dynamism on stage into the voice; a little more reflection of the meaning of what she was singing could really have elevated her performance to superlative levels. She achieved unity of text and voice in the mad scene though, and there’s much to be hoped for in her future assumptions of the role.

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia) and Christopher Maltman (Enrico) © ROH | Stephen Cummiskey
Lisette Oropesa (Lucia) and Christopher Maltman (Enrico)
© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey

Oropesa’s chemistry with Christopher Maltman (Enrico) was one of the highlights of the first half, each seeming energised by the other. Maltman’s powerful baritone reflected with unerring accuracy his portrayal of Enrico as a thug with a calculating mind behind his fists. Diction was particularly strong and the sheer force of his voice gave his performance heft. Charles Castronovo impressed in the original run as Edgardo and again brought strong technique and balmy Italianate tone to the role. Legato was balanced and his final aria, “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali” quivered with feeling. His acting varied in delivery, at its best in that final moment, lingering over the wreck of his love lying lifeless in the bath before slicing his wrists and then into his neck with nihilistic force. Michele Pertusi led the smaller roles with a thoughtful Raimondo, his mellow bass descending attractively in the lower register. Rachael Lloyd brought tragic humanity to Alisa, Lucia’s handmaiden, trying to hold herself together while mopping up the devastation of Lucia’s miscarriage and having herself participated in Arturo’s murder, but collapsing on the bed in silent tears.

Charles Castronovo (Edgardo) © ROH | Stephen Cummiskey
Charles Castronovo (Edgardo)
© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey

The revival benefited from a much stronger lead in the pit. Michele Mariotti clearly savoured the score, bringing depth and at times, visceral energy. The odd brass problem aside, it was a triumphant performance from the ROH Orchestra, reinforced by a strong, if physically inert, Royal Opera House Chorus. If only every first revival were as successful as this.