‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ at the ENO

☆☆☆☆ – a fervid production for our first review at the ENO.

David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor, an opera dominated by Italian Romanticism, delights in its palpable fervour. From the outset, the protagonists are caught in the throes of their respective plights: the men, preoccupied with war and furthering their societal position and the women (namely Lucia), possessed by love. This is reflected in Donizetti’s score; triumphant and bold marches saturated with pomp attest to the masculine passion, whilst sentimental melodies – notably a harp introducing Lucia in Act I – represent the feminine. This creates a polarity between male and female and aptly sets the scene for the ensuing drama and conflict.

Lucia, dominated by intense feelings of love for Edgardo (Eleazar Rodríguez) is mostly unaware of people around her and can at times seem vacant. Sarah Tynannonetheless lends gravity and pathos to the role, beautifully delivering Lucia’s swirling melodies. Lester Lynch’s Enrico displays the most pronounced emotional range. There are several moments of outstanding energy in the show; at various points, Enrico, overcome, violently confronts Lucia. Act III opens with Edgardo bellowing, centre stage, as a storm rages. The sparse set and innovative lighting- a single, swinging lamp, flashing intermittently, combine here to create astriking scene, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Lear contending with the elements. Tech is deployed effectively throughout the production, notably the lighting, which often uses side spotlights to create striking contrast on the stage. 

Despite the dramatic and serious themes, there are moments of almost farcical juxtaposition. The wedding scene is altogether comical. The chorus sings jubilant words whilst wearing funereal black dress and sombre expressions, the choice of palette emphasising the dry and transactional nature of the ceremony. Later, Edgardo bursts through a window in true Robin Hood fashion (think Errol Flynn), wielding a sword and leaping onto tables. These antics add to the comedy of the scene yet somewhat lessen the gravitas of the situation.

The show is also permeated by religion. The chaplain, played by Clive Bayley, is more often than not a conduit for a judgemental God, whom all the characters fear. Bayley expresses the chaplain’s pious discernment with conviction. This character is potentially a voice of reason and reconciliation amid the conflict, yet he is largely ignored and ultimately drawn into the turmoil. There is a moment, evocative of a 17thCentury history painting, perhaps a Rembrandt or Franz Hals, in which the chaplain and the chorus prostrate themselves downstage in front of the audience, implicating the audience in the role of the God they are constantly pleading to.

The impassioned dramatics take place against a backdrop of a predominantly black and white set, a constant reminder of the tragic undertones of the story. The props are thinly dispersed throughout the stage, constructing a somewhat cold and indifferent environment. Prominent portraits feature in multiple sets. They seem to represent the protagonists’ dead relatives, or even religious figures, omnipresent observers, solemnly and silently watching and judging the unfolding drama.

As the story comes to a close and the final tragedy ultimately emerges, the show ends with an exultant fanfare, testament to the fact that this opera knowingly romanticises and glorifies all of its themes (including war, tragedy and love) in equal measure. This bold production, aside from its disjunctive and less sincere moments, is immersive and captivating, with strong performances from its leads.

One performance remains: 05 December at 19h30. To book go to: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/lucia-di-lammermoor/

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