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The Multiple Brides of Lammermoor

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
11/09/2019 -  & November, 12, 14, 17, 2019
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Kathleen Kim (Lucia), Frédéric Antoun (Edgardo), Gregory Dahl (Enrico), Oleg Tsibulko (Raimondo), Mario Bahg (Arturo), Rocco Rupolo (Normanno), Florence Bourget (Alice)
Chœur de l’Opéra de Montréal, Claude Webster (chorus master), Orchestre Métropolitain, Fabrizio Ventura (conductor)
Michael Cavanagh (stage director), Robert R. O’Hearn (set), Opéra de Montréal (costumes), Anne-Catherine Simard-Deraspe (lighting)

M. Bahg (© Yves Renaud)

High expectations amongst Montreal’s opera lovers were shattered with the announcement that Russian soprano Albina Shagimyratova, scheduled to sing Lucia, was to be replaced by Kathleen Kim. While the Korean-American Kim is also a celebrated coloratura, best remembered for her Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, a role perfectly suited for her diminutive soprano and physique, this was disappointing news. She is a first-rate musician, with a supple voice with elegant high notes and pleasant timbre, but lacking in colour. Since Maria Callas portrayed Donizetti’s heroine, the nightingale variety of Lucias have fallen out of fashion, especially after Joan Sutherland, June Anderson and Mariella Devia continued in Callas’s steps: Lucia with stratospheric high notes but with a hefty voice to properly convey the drama and Lucia’s character. Kathleen Kim’s performance was a throwback to the days of chirping nightingales. Commensurate with that bygone era, she even introduced her own tasteful cadenzas in “Regnava nel silenzio.” Given the limits of such a voice, Kim compensated with admirable acting and musicianship. However, this was sadly inadequate to make this Lucia worthwhile. Her Italian diction was quite good in the first act, less so in the second and third acts. Despite her voice’s limitations and a strained E flat, the Mad Scene was effective.

Despite a beautiful voice and good stage presence, Canadian tenor Frederic Antoun was not suited for the role of Edgardo. His light tenor is typically Mozartian and would also be effective in some French roles. However, it lacks passion and bloom for the Italian repertoire. Despite this major limitation, Antoun’s portrayal was generally good, especially due to his stage presence. In the Act I duet, “Quando rapita in estasi,” there was no chemistry between Kim and Antoun, possibly due to insufficient rehearsals. In Act II, his voice sounded weary by the end of his first aria “Tombe degli avi miei,” resulting in an unpleasant end to the aria. Throughout the opera, his passion was evidently lacking, rendering the role dull. Singing Edgardo’s arias without squillo seems like a futile exercise. The famous Act II sextet was sadly underwhelming, again possibly due to lack of rehearsal. Edgardo’s fury was not felt. Antoun’s tepid rendition was more fitting for a Buxtehude cantata. Kim’s tiny voice was audible but did not rise above the orchestra and other singers. Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl was better than in his previous appearances in Montreal. His voice was appropriate for the role. His usually inadequate Italian diction was surprisingly good in this production, but his portrayal could not be that of a nobleman, even in the most remote of Scotland’s Highlands. He looked and moved more like the noble family’s game keeper. The smaller roles were competently sung. Moldavian bass Oleg Tsibulko took some time to warm into his role of the family’s priest, Raimondo. His rich bass contrasted well with the other singers, especially with Lucia in their Act II duet. His role too was made more villainous than in the libretto. Rocco Rupolo overplayed his tiny role of Normanno. Kudos to Korean tenor Mario Bahg, winner of the 2018 Montreal International Voice Competition, for a promising lyrical voice in the small role of the doomed bridegroom Arturo. He had more stage presence and panache than any other soloist in this production. This is a talent to be watched.

Several goofy ideas were used by stage director Michael Cavanagh with annoying effect. Enrico (Lucia’s brother) and his advisors were made into monsters. When will stage directors learn that less is more? Extreme negative portrayal makes the character less credible. In the libretto, Enrico is not a psychopath, but rather a man compelled to cruelly trick his sister into an unwanted marriage, due to his failing fortunes. Normanno, his advisor, and Alisa, lady in waiting to Lucia, are minor characters according to librettist Cammarano and to Donizetti’s very limited music for these characters. But for mysterious reasons, these two roles were boosted by the stage director. Though she has no music to sing, Alisa is made to appear at the opening of Acts 2 and Act 3 (the Mad Scene). This was annoyingly distracting. Unlike Baroque and Mozart operas, Bel Canto operas are not ensemble works, but are usually centred around the leading soprano, a soprano-tenor duo or a soprano-tenor-baritone triangle. These operas are constructed so that the other characters make the principal ones stand out. Likewise, Normanno, a very minor role, is made into a super-villain. Though nowhere indicated in the libretto, he is abusive to Alisa. At the end of the opera, the priest Raimondo takes away Edgardo’s sword, the one he usually stabs himself with. Instead, the villanous Normanno hands him a dagger.

Why this overkill? This may have the minor effect of having the public despise Enrico even more, but it makes Edgardo a weaker character. Committing suicide upon learning of Lucia’s death is a conscious act that shows both despair and determination. Being inspired into suicide is quite pathetic. During Lucia’s opening aria “Regnava nel silenzio,” she refers to the ghost of a drowned woman. The stage director thought it might be effective to show the public a woman in a white veil to represent the aforementioned ghost. Instead of having a scary effect, it diminished the already minimalist, gothic atmosphere. It may have been effective had the ghost had a fleeting presence, but the ghost moved slowly on stage to almost comic effect. Furthermore, it was perhaps decided to amortize the cost of the ghost’s costume and have her appear throughout the opera. This effect varied from merely distracting to hilarious. Most dismal was having not one Bride of Lammermoor appear during Edgardo’s death scene, but almost five ghost brides! It was actually four veiled brides and one veiled bridegroom, the recently murdered Arturo. It felt like a belated Halloween party. The ghosts’ appearance diminished the intensity of Edgar’s final aria and the ending of the opera.

Ossama el Naggar



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