This is the first time that the Met has repeated a production in its fascinating series of high definition operas. We get the opportunity to compare Natalie Dessay's performance in 2011 with that given by Anna Netrebko two years earlier. Other aspects of Mary Zimmerman's production are essentially the same, both good and bad. We have the Victorian setting which looks good but detracts somewhat from the political context of the opera. There is the imaginative use of ghosts, particularly that of Lucia herself as she urges her lover on to suicide. There is also the irritating addition of a Victorian wedding photographer to spoil the famous sextet.
This 2011 performance is, however, much more successful. First and foremost is the incomparable singing and acting performance of Natalie Dessay but the other roles also benefit from stronger casting with tenor Joseph Calleja in fine voice as Edgardo and Ludovic Tézier chillingly effective as Lucia's venal brother Enrico. I did not find the wedding photographer so irritating this time round and assumed that the scene had been toned down slightly. On replaying the Netrebko version I find that the two scenes are virtually identical. I can only guess that the sextet in the later version was so good that I did not notice the extraneous silliness.
No-one does mad like Natalie Dessay. Particularly effective is the way she picks on unsuspecting members of the chorus to share with her in re-enacting her wedding scene. There are also some rather strange omissions. There is no eery glass harmonica. Also, in what should be the duet between Lucia and the flute, there is no flute. We have to imagine it, just as Lucia is doing. I have seen Dessay's performance in Donizetti's French rewrite of this opera Lucie de Lammermoor. I can only imagine that, at Dessay's behest, the French orchestral parts have been substituted at this point. Dessay finishes the scene with virtually no orchestral accompaniment. This is brave and very moving. The only snag is that the audience does not know when she is finished. The moment passes, the action moves on, and she has to wait for the end of the opera before she gets her well-deserved standing ovation.
Gaetano Donizetti's tragic masterwork Lucie de Lammermoor (French version) is performed at the Lyon Opera House in 2002. Natalie Dessay sings the title role of the opera staged by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, and conducted by Evelino Pido.
Lucie de Lammermoor's plot surprisingly reminds us of the myth of lovers Romeo and Juliette. In Scotland of the Middle-age, two families - the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods – are enemies. Because they are on the verge of bankruptcy, the Ashtons want to marry their daughter Lucie to Sir Arthur, a wedding that could save them... Nonetheless, Henri Ashton, Lucie's brother, discovers that his sister is in love with their enemy Edgard Ravenswood. Edgard promises Lucie he will come back to marry her and offers her a ring before leaving. For several months, Henri Ashton intercepts the letters his enemy sends to Lucie and she is forced to agree marrying Sir Arthur; Lucie swears to kill herself after the wedding. She signs the prenuptial agreement just before Edgard's return she was not aware of. Lovers will they be again reunited...?
The libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, is written in inspiration from Sir Walter Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor. Donizetti explores the shape of tragedy with a different perspective. He develops the madness of the main character and shows the immeasurable pain that the character feels through the madness.
Natalie Dessay's performance of the title role is heartbreaking, particularly in the famous "Mad Scene", in which she wanders wearing her wedding dress which is dirtied with the blood of her bridegroom, whom she has killed. Indeed her performance, that develops all the nuances of despair, highlights her perfect mastery of dramatic codes.