As Chicago cools, the Lyric Opera began a new run of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, or what the Civic Opera House’s marquee calls a “bloody good time.” This classic tragedy of the bel canto stage, though adapted from a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, has always been thin on plot, a fact that this new-to-Chicago production does little to mask through direction or reparative staging. Instead, strong vocal talent rules the night, and a late moment of visual splendor caps off a serviceable reading of a battered warhorse.

The Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova returns to the Lyric in the title role, and she has no trouble assuming center stage. She sings Lucia in a voice that is hearty, not delicate, with a languor in the vocal delivery that is offset with moments of surprising nimbleness, especially in the highest ranges. What I like most about her is the variety of ways she can begin a note; sometimes with an edge, sometimes blooming it gently.

She has a perfect vocal partner in Piotr Beczała’s Edgardo, who sings with an appealing urgency. His tenor is seated low in the body, which makes him a credible sonic rival to Quinn Kelsey, who sings his rival Enrico. Beczała’s brio blends ideally with Shagimuratova’s strong, pearlescent voice. The love duet “Verranno a te” is a showpiece.

The orchestral playing was very tight; Enrique Mazzola can stop a whole bank of strings on a dime. The brass was especially good, boasting an appealingly puckered staccato on Donizetti’s Italianate accompaniment textures.

Some people responded favourably to Paul Brown's set designs and Graham Vick's, but it didn’t gel for me. The set consisted of sliding panels that dilated and shuttered like a camera lens, revealing glimpses of a moor spotted with hardy grasses. The minimalist, modular stage would ideally produce a sense of infinite possibilities, an endless sequence of differently framed scenes. Yet its effect – in addition to shrinking the singers and flattening them against a two-dimensional backdrop – is somewhat diminished by the makeshift quality of the sliding boards, which have about the finesse of a high school production.

The one gorgeous effect produced by the set comes near the end of the night. After Shagimuratova brought the roof down with her clarion mad scene, nearly replicating the tone of Marie Tachouet’s flute in the pit, the sliding panels dilate, for the first time in the evening, to expose the stage nearly in its entirely, the frame widening to a full Cinemascope. The sudden expansiveness of the stage, revealing a blasted Scottish landscape splashed in colour, is arresting. But was it worth having the action constrained to windows in a blocked off stage for the first two and a half hours, as if we were looking through the wrong end of a telescope?