The Deutsche Oper’s vintage production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor pushes all the right buttons. Friday night was its 129th performance since the production’s première in 1980, but it is as fresh as a daisy and could easily continue to be the beloved warhorse it is for another thirty years.

Lucia itself is one of those popular warhorses of the operatic repertory, an opera that everyone knows of, even if they have never seen it: the story of a young woman who goes crazy and knifes her husband on their wedding night has its place in the popular imagination. But to miss a performance of Lucia is a great pity. Touching, sad, and with Donizetti’s superb music, it makes for a wonderful night at the opera. Certainly, the cast at the Deutsche Oper will ensure that no one goes home unmoved.

Hulkar Sabirova © Agentur
Hulkar Sabirova
© Agentur

Any performance of Lucia di Lammermoor hangs upon its soprano, and Hulkar Sabirova rose admirably to the occasion. Sabirova’s voice is rich and creamy, her portrayal of the doomed heroine girlish and sweet. Lucia is ultimately a very weak, fragile woman, and Sabirova showed this essential weakness without bashing the audience over the head with it. Her Lucia is used to being taken care of, used to obeying her brother. Small wonder though that she resisted Enrico’s orders to marry Arturo, she ultimately relented. Sabirova’s coloratura was flawless in the extremely difficult mad scene, though if any complaints are to be made, it was that she was very careful in the extended runs. One could have cut glass with her high notes.

As Edgardo, Yosep Kang sang with a powerful, bell-clear tenor, and rocked the rather unfortunate wig he wore. His Edgardo was passionate and helpless, full of anger at Lucia’s apparent betrayal, full of love for her even despite it. His arch-enemy, Enrico, was sung by Bastiaan Everink, whose voice roared out over the orchestra, rich and dark and swaggering. His Enrico was a bully, thinking only of himself and ruthless in forcing Lucia to do his will. What brother drives his sister to the point of madness? Enrico Ashton. No retiring from politics to lead a quiet country life here.

The trio of leads was admirably supported by Matthew Newlin, Katarina Bradic and Jörg Schörner, as Arturo, Raimondo, Alisa and Normanno, respectively. Newlin’s Arturo was suitably pompous, though it was sometimes difficult to hear him over the orchestra. Marko Mimica’s Raimondo was excellent, his stentorian bass ringing out as he described Arturo’s death and Lucia’s descent into madness. His character suffered a bit from having his Act II interaction with Lucia cut, but we nevertheless understood Raimondo to be a powerful, cool-headed man (as indeed he would have to be, to run into a bridal chamber at the sound of screams). Katarina Bradic sung Alisa with a plummy voice, though she was drowned out in the ensemble, and Jörg Schörner outdid himself as the tattling huntsman. The chorus and orchestra, under the direction of Ivan Respusic, contributed to a musically fantastic evening.

The production itself is ultra-traditional, almost pointedly so. Set in the 17th century, as specified by the libretto, there was no tinkering with the plot to fit the director’s vision. The original director and costumer, Filippo Sanjust, chose to tell the story as it is, without alteration. With sprawling panels painted as blue stage curtains and a row of footlights at the end of the stage, the sensation is that of watching an opera production from the early years of the last century: quite an intriguing way of doing things. A scrim painted with a Scottish scene and depicting a ghostly woman only adds to the retro feeling. The costumes are also very 17th century, with plenty of fluffy trousers and Scottish tartan bedecking everyone from the leads to the chorus members. With the pompous Scottish country house sets and the wildness of the outdoor scenes, it was melancholic and beautiful.

Kudos to the Deutsche Oper too for its new use of English surtitles, which undoubtedly makes it easier for the vast amounts of foreign visitors to follow the dialogue onstage. The system is not without its glitches – some of the titles sound hilariously camp, as though directly translated from German (“Stop being so content!” was a personal favorite) – but ultimately, it is a welcome step forward and did nothing to detract from the opera itself.