Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Opera in all its full-blooded glory

‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ is a showcase for singers that should prove equally attractive to newcomers to the genre and connoisseurs alike

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

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Bernard Shaw’s quip that in Italian operas the soprano and the tenor want to make love, and the baritone tries to stop them, certainly applies to Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, due to be given its first ever performances in Taiwan in Taipei’s National Theater next weekend.

Since Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬), a major opera enthusiast, left the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) in 2007, it’s been the Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) who’ve taken up the slack opera-wise. Tseng Dau-hsiong (曾道雄), who is both conducting and directing Lucia, has come up with several colorful productions over the past three years, whether in Taipei’s Metropolitan Hall (Don Giovanni and an operatic double-bill including Gianni Schicchi) or in the National Theater (Idomeneo and this current venture).

His style is not to subvert the composers’ original intentions, so that what you get is the traditional product, though usually in a fairly dramatic form. “Our aim is not to draw squiggles over the face of the Mona Lisa,” he says, meaning that he respects the integrity of art and therefore offers it pretty much as originally conceived.

Gaetano Donizetti was an extraordinary figure — syphilitic, later insane, but nevertheless writing 75 operas in 12 years — and Lucia di Lammermoor was his most successful serious (as opposed to comic) production. It wouldn’t get a place in the world’s 20 greatest operas, but it might make it into the top 50.

It amazes us today that so many Italian operas of the 1830s were based on historical novels by Sir Walter Scott. But Scotland was considered as the ultimate romantic destination at the time — mist-shrouded, mysterious, full of feuding families and tragic lovers. In his lifetime Scott was the most successful novelist the UK had ever produced, with his books translated into all the major European languages. During the 1830s he was the height of fashion in Italy.

EXHIBITION NOTES:

WHAT: Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Lucia di Lammermoor

WHEN: Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 at 7pm, Jan. 3 at 2pm

WHERE: National Theater, Taipei City

ADMISSION, NT$400, NT$800, NT$2,000, NT$5,000 and NT$10,000, available through the NTCH box office, online at www.artsticket.com.tw or by calling (02) 3393-9888


Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, and Donizetti’s opera, tell the story of a Scottish family, the Ashtons, living in a remote baronial hall, Ravenswood. They’ve fallen on hard times, and their only hope is to marry off their daughter Lucy (Lucia in Italian) to a rich friend Arthur (Arturo). Unfortunately for them, she’s fallen for a romantic figure called Edgar (Edgardo), the Ashton’s sworn enemy. Considering Edgardo’s surname is Ravenswood, and the Ashtons have stolen his castle from him, the enmity is hardly surprising.

Henry (Enrico), Lucia’s brother and the villain of the piece, is consequently determined to do everything in his power to thwart the young couple.

The music is the usual Italian mix of high-energy rhythm and romantic melody, though with one difference. Extravagant vocal acrobatics were demanded from the leading soprano in this era, leading to the appellation “bel canto” (beautiful singing) for the period’s operatic style. Some people think it’s more like a bullfight, with the suffering soprano as the bull gored into ever-more-impossible vocal flights by the callous males around her. Lucia di Lammermoor is nonetheless considered to be one of the high-points of the bel canto style.

The opera opens with evocations of the mystery of Scotland, and then of violent conflict. The curtain goes up to reveal Enrico, the wicked brother, horrified to hear that Lucia has been secretly meeting his enemy in the castle grounds. Two fighting arias from Enrico follow, swearing to tear up the youthful love affair by the roots.

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