The great thing about a bellissima bel canto opera like Lucia di Lammermoor is that the music can usually withstand the most aberrant of directional distractions. Such was the case with Sandra Leupold’s Regietheater staging of Donizetti’s melancholy masterpiece for the Staatsoper Hamburg.

Maestro Pier Giorgio Morandi opted for the original 1835 San Carlo score and, like Richard Bonynge’s critical edition, restored most of the cuts made by von Karajan and his scalpel-wielding disciples. These included the dramatically important Wolf’s Crag altercation between Edgardo and Enrico in Act III and Raimondo’s “Al ben de' tuoi qual vittima” scena in Act II.

<i>Lucia</i> in Hamburg © Brinkhoff-Mogenburg
Lucia in Hamburg
© Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

Following Gergiev’s preference for the original instrumentation, Morandi used a glass harmonica accompaniment to “Il dolce suono” instead of the customary two flutes, which gave a misty sonority to the celebrated Mad Scene. Tempi tended to be on the slow side and orchestral forces generally subdued although the “D'immenso giubilo” chorus was suitably oomphy and re-asserted the orchestra’s presence. In any case, Donizetti’s orchestration was never intended to challenge the preëminence of the voices, which in this cast were decidedly variable.

Looking more like a raffish popinjay out of Blackadder than a somber Stuart chaplain, Belarusian bass Alexander Roslavets sang the conscious-stricken Raimondo with an appealing, warm rounded timbre and resonant low register. Ah! cedi, cedi was especially impressive.

Russian baritone Alexey Bogdanchikov was badly miscast as Lucia’s manipulative, manic brother. Looking like he was about to pop out for a game of golf, this torpid Enrico was never more than a listless laird. The murderous rage implicit in “Cruda, funesta smania” was mollified to being mildly miffed. Bogdanchikov is certainly no Bruson and the voice was far too light for the role with shortcomings at both ends of the tessitura and particular tentativeness in the upper range. The top F natural on “spegnerò” was pushed and perilous.

Katerina Tretyakova (Lucia) © Brinkhoff-Mögenburg
Katerina Tretyakova (Lucia)
© Brinkhoff-Mögenburg

Ramón Vargas’ Edgardo was eagerly anticipated. Possibly debilitated by the desultory direction, this was far from a noteworthy performance. The Mexican tenor’s acting was rudimentary and although a solid mid-range was evident in “Sulla tomba”, it wasn’t until “Fra poco a me ricovero” that the voice opened to display its familiar robust timbre. Lacking the lyricism of Bergonzi or irrepressible fervour of di Stefano, on this occasion Vargas was merely competent.

There is hardly a prima donna role more assoluta than Lucia and the performance was redeemed by some fine singing from Katerina Tretyakova. The Russian soprano is an interesting combination of lighter coloraturas such as Jo or Gruberova with the meatier vocal weight of Scotto or Callas. The trills in “Regnava nel silenzio” were pure Stupenda and the long legato in the “Verranno a te sull'aure” duet akin to Caballé. Rapid sixteenth note scales and roulades in the endless “Il dolce suono” scena were crystalline and secure. The stratospheric upper register, including a top D-flat at the end of the Sextet and scattering of stellar E-flats in the da capo ornamentations in “Spargi d'amaro pianto” were excellent. Tretyakova’s acting was also formidable. During the marathon of madness and vocal pyrotechnics, she cut the wedding cake with the same bloodied dagger that dispatched the luckless Lord Bucklaw and offered slices to the stupefied guests. This was perhaps the only instance of effective directing in an otherwise irritating mis-en-scène.

As a protégé of Hans Neuenfels, it was unlikely that Sandra Leupold would be much troubled by textual integrity or dramaturgical consistency. In the programme notes she contends that any realistic representation of Scottish aristocracy in the 1590’s is a mistake and that characters in bel canto opera are actually nothing more than theatrical archetypes.

The ill-omened nuptials © Brinkhoff-Mogenburg
The ill-omened nuptials
© Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

In updating the drama to a nebulous nowhere of ersatz Gaelic frippery, Leupold turned the morbid Bride of Lammermoor story into a cross between Outlander and a matricidal Monarch of the Glen. Scott’s depiction of internecine clan rivalries and Stuart social mores was traduced to theatre of the absurd. Instead of Lammermoor castle in the late 16th century, Stefan Heinrichs’ single stage set comprised a few extremely high pylons adorned with fading family portraits surrounding a circular metal staircase. Improvising the garden in Act I, Lucia physically dragged in an enormous pallet of potted plants more indigenous to Honolulu than East Lothian.

Esther Bialas’ costumes were jarringly eclectic. In passing deference to Scotland, there were a couple of kilts and tam-o’-shanters, but it looked more like a ragbag of cast-off clothing from Maria Stuarda and Peter Grimes. Extravagent Stuart period collar ruffs were worn over contemporary Argyle pullovers. During the ill-omened nuptials, a huge four-poster canopy bed appeared with Edgardo standing on top of it. Instead of valiantly fighting off outraged Ashton kith and kin during “Esci, fuggi”, Edgardo started a pillow fight from the bed which was much closer to St. Trinian’s than Braveheart. Regietheater triumphierend indeed.

***11