Lucia di Lammermoor, Holland Park, London
Don Giovanni, Garsington, Wormsley, Buckinghamshire
Idomeneo, Grange Park, The Grange Hampshire
Tartan and kilts are ditched in an austere production of Donizetti's blockbuster. Meanwhile, predatory women toy with the Don and a hellcat Elettra prowls a Georgian drawing room
Sunday 10 June 2012
When Gaetano Donizetti died in 1848, insensible and bloated from the ravages of syphilis, Lucia di Lammermoor was a global sensation. In the 13 years since its Naples premiere, Donizetti's adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's doomy Gothic novel had been seen in Brussels, Budapest, Berlin and Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Havana, New Orleans and Jakarta, Helsinki, Dublin and Port-of-Spain. In New York, it was sufficiently well known to spawn a burlesque by the name of Lucy did Sham-Amour. Think Lucia, think excess: a volley of fioritura shot through with the glancing moonbeams of the glass harmonica. Yet in Olivia Fuchs's austere production for Opera Holland Park, the agony of Lucia's lover, Edgardo, is as poignant as that of the bloodstained bride.
Touristic trappings of tartan and heather have no place in Donizetti's score, which plays on the heaviness of familial coercion and the weightlessness of young love in a landscape that is cold and unforgiving but not otherwise notably Scottish. The baleful processional of horns and timpani, the silvered fluttering of the harp, the keening oboe, the fight-or-flight agitation of the male chorus, the raucous hedonism of the wedding guests, the shivering glow of the glass harmonica and the slow lament of the divisi cellos are expertly realised here by the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford, whose subtle manipulation of colour and tempi informs much of the movement – and stillness – on stage.
A broad wall of slate stretches across Jamie Vartan's set, the space broken by four wire-mesh screens, a simple chair, a bed of virginal white, and a wide table on which Lucia (Elvira Fatykhova) signs her marriage contract, swooning like a Pre-Raphaelite muse. Supple of voice, pristine in "Regnava nel silenzio" and the distracted medley of the mad scene, Fatykhova is a delicate presence but steely enough to ignore an impromptu first-night descant for helicopter and police siren. Aled Hall's leering Arturo brings a touch of black humour to the wedding as Alisa and Raimondo watch aghast. While Normanno washes his hands of responsibility, Enrico snarls in fraternal fury, diminished and shamed by Aldo Di Toro's agile Edgardo, whose handsomely shaped account of "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali" is, with the Act II sextet, the finest moment in an elegant and understated staging.
Daniel Slater's Don Giovanni for Garsington Opera essays a contemporary dramma giocoso in which women are the sexual predators. In a split-level apartment (designs by Leslie Travers), Natasha Jouhl's brittle Donna Anna gulps oysters and champagne, blindfolding Grant Doyle's puppyish Don and handcuffing him to the table while the other characters slumber or sulk in self-pity, oblivious to what is going on. Once you've turned a rape scene into a consensual sex game and made your characters lie, you can do almost anything. The sight gags are plentiful: a tsunami of used tissues from Sophie Bevan's sobbing Elvira, a Towie-style wedding party for Mary Bevan's Zerlina and Callum Thorpe's Masetto. It's trashy and irreverent, fast-moving, sexy and expressively sung.
Mozart's music zips blamelessly along under conductor Douglas Boyd, period-accented and incisively detailed, with "Mi tradi" ingeniously relocated to Act I as a reaction to the catalogue aria. Only gradually do you notice the contempt in the eyes of Jesus Leon's Don Ottavio and how deeply dazzled Joshua Bloom's Leporello is by his master. Then Masetto accepts Zerlina's offer to strike her in "Batti, batti" and knocks her to the floor, changing the atmosphere instantly. Act II is unsteadied by multiple vulnerabilities and betrayals, the livid bruise on Zerlina's cheek and the presence of Christophoros Stamboglis's Commendatore. The finale is awkward. Just as the Don cannot escape retribution, Slater cannot escape the libretto. But for musical boldness and an honest appraisal of the nasty compromises people make for love, it's a strong show.
The standout performance in director-designer Charles Edwards's staging of Idomeneo for Grange Park Opera is Hye-Youn Lee's Elettra. Trussed up in a scarlet Jane Austen dress in the Georgian drawing room that stands for the Cretan palace, she hisses like a Mozartian hellcat, unchecked by the social conventions that are dissolving around her as Neptune wreaks his plaguey revenge on Idomeneo. If I were him, I would relinquish droopy Idamante and throw in drippy Ilia as a bonus. But such is the love of a parent for their child. While Edwards explores an anti-religious thesis, presenting the Cretans as cultish dolts, conductor Nicholas Kraemer focuses on details of balance. The English Chamber Orchestra is not uniformly co-operative but much of the solo singing is refined, and the choruses are generously and intelligently phrased.
'Lucia di Lammermoor' (0300 999 1000) to 30 June; 'Don Giovanni' (01865 361636) to 2 Jul; 'Idomeneo' (01962 737366) to 1 Jul
Aldeburgh Festival's events over the coming week include Schumann lieder from Matthias Goerne and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, above, Gesualdo motets from Collegium Vocale Gent, recitals from pianist Menahem Pressler and cellist Miklos Perenyi, and Sam West and the Aurora Orchestra in a concert of Britten's complete film scores – all at Snape Maltings, Suffolk.
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