Opera / Edinburgh Festival 97 / International festival; Lucia di Lammermoor Usher Hall

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Indy Lifestyle Online
People who saw the Royal Opera's concert performance of Verdi's Macbeth in Edinburgh last week vowed that it would be the great event of the 1997 festival. It had everything, except stage production: firm direction, great singers, high drama.

They were wrong, however. Macbeth was a great event, but Lucia di Lammermoor was greater. It was another concert performance, this time at the Usher Hall on Sunday; and there were other similarities. Anthony Michaels-Moore, fresh from singing the Thane of Cawdor, was Enrico, and in place of Georgina Lukacs (the Lady Macbeth) there was another Hungarian soprano, Andrea Rost. And where Sir Edward Downes returned to the original 1847 score of the Verdi, Sir Charles Mackerras re-created Donizetti's music as it would have been heard, with original keys restored, no surrender to vocal display, embellishments in the reprises and all the composer's scenes in their proper order.

Suddenly, Donizetti seemed like a truly major figure. Everything was pace, dash and excitement, the Hanover Band adding brisk virtuosity and the rich spice of their authentic instruments - a moody clarinet, barking horns and clattery old drums that lent a fairground excitement to the storm scene. Above all, Mackerras was clearly in charge. He dominated not only the plain-sailing parts but even the soloists' great moments of sentiment, and you saw them deferring to his kindly authority, sacrificing pauses and tenuti for the sake of the general momentum.

And what soloists! Michaels-Moore made a virtue of the slight huskiness in his tone, plunging headlong into "Cruda, funesta smania" with reckless ferocity. Bruce Ford, as Edgardo, was a bel canto singer whose Italianate voice was not favoured by the big hall (the Festival Theatre would have been better for him), but he conveyed adolescent ardour and pathos, revealing that the tragedy was finally his, with a moving "Fra poco a me ricovero".

There were no weak links. Ryland Davies was a fluent and warm Normanno, Alastair Miles darkly benign as Raimondo (a baritone with a good trill, forsooth); there was a heroic Arturo (Paul Charles Clarke) and a full- toned, abundant Alisa (Louise Winter).

Rost, as Lucia, did not second Sir Charles's intention to return to the old methods of singing, which he declared in the programme. The original Lucia would have taken high notes in a thin half-voice, and florid runs would have been slightly detached, like raindrops on a window. Rost is the complete modern florid singer: all notes are strongly focused and unremittingly beautiful, and roulades are taken in a smooth legato. The Mad Scene, consequently, was dazzling and touching, rather than spooky. As well as delivering the famous "Spargi d'amaro pianto" with cascades of bravura that were all the better for a certain restraint, Rost suggested girlish softness and tender regret in a voice that failed and broke, recoiling into a demure hush at the sound of the vibrato-less flute.

Even the chorus (the London Voices) were ideal, one of those small expert groups who can tackle anything. Everything came together for this performance, and a familiar work was miraculously reborn. Raymond Monelle