Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is a coloratura soprano vehicle and this season’s Dutch National Opera production felicitously starred Jessica Pratt, an internationally celebrated Lucia and a favourite of the Italian public.

Alastair Miles (Raimondo), Jessica Pratt (Lucia), Marco Caria (Enrico) and Philippe Talbot (Arturo) © BAUS
Alastair Miles (Raimondo), Jessica Pratt (Lucia), Marco Caria (Enrico) and Philippe Talbot (Arturo)
© BAUS

After its world première in Naples in 1835, the gorgeously scored tragedy of the fragile Miss Lucia, who is forced into a political marriage by her brother, became a staple of the standard repertoire. Salvatore Cammarano’s taut libretto, based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, reaches its dramatic boiling point in the mother of all operatic Mad Scenes, in which Lucia, having just murdered her new husband, loses her mind and falls dead.

In this production from 2007, director Monique Wagemakers places most of the action in and around Lucia’s four-poster bed, zooming in on her psychological pain. Lucia is a child-like, traumatised abuse victim, enacting her escapist fantasies with life-size dolls. Like her, they are scarred and broken. It is not only her brother Enrico who terrorizes her. The clergyman Raimondo abuses her sexually, while her confidante Alisa witnesses the abuse in silence. Jessica Pratt, dressed and made up to look like a Victorian doll herself, delivers a harrowing portrait of the heroine. She repeatedly cowers from her abusers, hides under the bedclothes, and rocks disconsolately.

Christine Tocci (Alisa) and Jessica Pratt (Lucia) © BAUS
Christine Tocci (Alisa) and Jessica Pratt (Lucia)
© BAUS

The stark set, evocatively lit by the late Reinier Tweebeeke, and the sombre, monochromatic costumes externalise Lucia’s fear and hopelessness. Hope appears in the form of Lucia’s beloved, and her brother’s mortal enemy, Edgardo, sung by Ismael Jordi. But after Edgardo tells her that he has to leave Scotland, the lovers sit on opposite sides of the bed, their backs to each other. Lucia is completely alone again.

The concentration of most of the action around Lucia’s bed and the lack of contrast in the costumes, especially during the black-on-black wedding scene, made the staging feel static at times. However, Wagemakers’ visualization of Lucia’s deteriorating mental state is highly effective and the gifted cast realized her concept eloquently.

Jessica Pratt was a pitiably fragile, vocally sensational Lucia. Pratt has not only fully mastered the bel canto technique, but knows how to make it serve dramatic intent. The lower range of her voice is light, and when she narrates her ghostly encounter in Act I the aria could have more vocal impact. Cleverly, she sang it while suspended on her bed above a two-metre drop, literally teetering on the edge. This dramatic visual metaphor and Pratt’s acting skills made “Regnava nel silenzio” one of the highlights of the production.

The glory of Pratt’s voice is in the upper octave. From the Act I love duet onwards, her fluid, silvery soprano shimmered and took flight. Hearing from her brother, the gruff and menacing Enrico of baritone Marco Caria, that Edgardo has been unfaithful, Pratt crumpled physically and sang a finely spun, deeply touching “Soffriva nel pianto”.

From the beginning of the Mad Scene, “Il dolce suono…Spargi d’amaro pianto”, surrounded by grotesquely bewigged wedding guests, Pratt took hold of the stage, terrified and terrifying. The high point of her descent into madness was a beautiful, perfectly pitched cadenza, eerily accompanied by a glass harmonica, as specified in the original score. Incidentally, although Pratt has sung in more than a dozen Lucia productions, this was her first production featuring a glass harmonica. And yes, she hit a spectacular high E flat before collapsing.

Jessica Pratt (Lucia) and Alastair Miles (Raimondo) © BAUS
Jessica Pratt (Lucia) and Alastair Miles (Raimondo)
© BAUS

Ismael Jordi was equally impressive. His beautiful light lyric tenor is ideal for Edgardo. One of his teachers was Alfredo Kraus and his elegant phrasing is very reminiscent of that great tenor. Solid technique, an easy top and detailed colouring of the text make Jordi’s singing an absolute joy. His Edgardo was brash and bruised, as much a victim of circumstance as his beloved. He sounded thrilling in the confrontation at the Wolf’s Crag with Enrico, in the middle of a graveyard of swords skewered into the ground, and his deeply affecting suicide aria, “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”, was a worthy finale to a performance that kept getting better and better.

Taking on the smaller roles were Christine Tocci as a cold, stern Alisa, a honey-voiced Philippe Talbot as the bridegroom Arturo, and Erik Slik as Enrico’s captain of the guard, Normanno, who infused his expository lines with emotion.

Carlo Rizzi conducted the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra with verve, although more dynamic variation and quicker tempi in places would have been welcome. There was the occasional pit-to-stage coordination glitch, but Rizzi was very supportive of the soloists, allowing them to shape a comely vocal line. The Chorus of the Dutch National Opera sang superbly and with complete theatrical involvement.

****1