10 April 2011

Lucia di Lammermoor

I saw the opera Lucia di Lammermoor Wednesday evening with Cicily.

The opera was performed at the Met, in NYC, but we watched it on a live feed to a theater in West Springfield, Mass. in HD. Part of the Metropolitan Opera's attempt to make itself a global franchise.

Of course, nothing is quite so real an immediate presence as ... immediate presence. In other words, any electronic mediation is different from Being There. Still, the good folks behind this try to make up for the mediation by backstage segments between the Acts, in which the audience in places like West Springfield gets to watch the crew putting the next Act's scenery in place or listen to live interviews with the singers/actors about how they're psyching themselves up for the big aria ahead of them etc.

Lucia was excellently done. My congrats to everyone involved.

The story comes from a Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor. Scott wrote it in 1819 and set the events in the Scotland of a little more than a century before -- in the time of Queen Anne.

The plot involves two feuding families, Ravenswood and Ashton. Edgar Ravenswood is in love with an Ashton heiress, Lucy. They pledge their troth. Soon after the pledge is made, Edgar has to travel to France for pressing political reasons.

While he is away, the rest of the Ashton family press Lucy to renounce Edgar and marry the Laird of Bucklaw, who will be a powerful political ally and defender, helping the family restore its past glories. In Scott's novel, it is Lucy's mother who sets these machinations in place. In Donizetti's opera, on the other hand, Lucy is mourning her recently deceased mother when the curtain first rises: it is her brother who plays the true-love-frustrating villain.

This lets the opera tell the tale as a woman caught between two men.

In either version, though, Lucy goes ahead with the arranged marriage, goes mad, and stabs the groom when they are alone in their bedchamber. The groom survives his injuries in Scott, though they are fatal in the opera. Lucy descends further into madness and, soon enough, into death.

In either version, Edgar too dies soon thereafter, though his death is managed somewhat differently in each.

The short description of either tale, though, is that it is a transmutation of Shakespeare's story of star-crossed lovers to the Scottish moors.

Donizetti (and his librettist, Salvadore Cammarano) are faithful to the spirit of Scott's story, taking the usual liberties as I have mentioned, and of course giving all the characters the Italian variant of the name Scott had bestowed upon them.

This particular production of Lucia took a further liberty. It moved the setting forward in time, to a period more recent than the opera's composition, although only slightly so. This is a early-Victorian-era Lucia. The chorus looks a bit like they wandered in from a Sherlock Holmes movie. At one point, an early camera is set up on a tripod in order to take a wedding-day photo.

I don't know whether those changes are entirely successful, but I suppose Mary Zimmerman is entitled to her own vision.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.