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The Dazzling Belgian Bride of Lammermoor

Grand Théâtre de Québec
10/21/2023 -  & October, 24, 26, 28, 2023
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucie de Lammermoor
Jodie Devos (Lucie), Julien Dran (Edgar), Hugo Laporte (Henri), Yoann Le Lan (Gilbert), Emmanuel Hasler (Sir Arthur), Tomislav Lavoie (Raymond)
Choeur de l’Opéra de Québec, Réal Toupin (chorus master), Orchestre symphonique de Québec, Jean‑Marie Zeitouni (conductor)
Nicola Berloffa (stage director & costumes), Andrea Belli (sets), Valerio Tiberi (lighting)

J. Devos, J. Dran (© Jessica Latouche)

Lucie de Lammermoor (1839) is a variation of Donizetti’s masterpiece (and most successful opera) Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). It was specially adapted for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, where the composer then lived. Most of the music remained unchanged, but the drama was much improved; it’s infinitely more compelling in its French incarnation, probably to appeal to supposedly Cartesian French minds. The intrigue is the same. Edgard is the last of his clan, the Ravenswoods, destroyed and dispossessed by the rival Ashton clan. Despite their family feud, Lucie and Edgard are in love and secretly engaged. Having lost much of his family’s wealth, Lucie’s brother Henri intends to marry her off to Sir Arthur, nephew of the King’s minister. By showing his sister false evidence of Edgard’s unfaithfulness, Enrico manages to convince Lucie to renounce her lover. Just after the signature of the marriage contract, Edgard bursts into the wedding banquet, reproaches Lucie for her disloyalty, and is chased away. In her bridal chamber, Lucie loses her mind and stabs the bridegroom, Sir Arthur. When Edgardo hears of Lucie’s death, he stabs himself.

This gripping family drama was successful in part thanks to the vocal revelation of the evening, Belgian soprano Jodie Devos. Endowed with a dazzling technique, she captivated the audience with her seamless upper register. As the typical French coloratura is lighter and higher than the Italian one, the role of Lucie is transposed upwards. This posed no challenge to the valiant Devos. Despite the lightness of the vocal part of Lucie, Devos managed to maintain the tragic dimension thanks to her astounding dramatic skills. I’ve seen countless productions of Lucia di Lammermoor, and Devos’ is by far the most impressive. One feels she has completely internalized the role. And more importantly, she didn’t resort to any excessive histrionics that typically plague so many divas.

One major difference in this French adaptation is the substitution of Lucia’s Act I aria “Regnava nel silenzio” with the dazzling “Que n’avons‑nous des aîles!... Toi par qui mon cœur rayonne”. The latter is a French adaptation of “Perché non ho del vento” from Donizetti’s Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1834). Other than giving the soprano a more demanding aria to show off her technique, it eliminates the “gothic” element from the opera. After all, “Regnava nel silenzio’’ narrates the story of the ghost of a dead girl who had drowned in the fountain. Much more than Lucia, Lucie is a delicate romantic character evocative of La sonnambula’s Amina or of Adam’s Giselle.

French tenor Julien Dran was an ideal Edgard, both vocally and dramatically. Edgard is not a light bel canto role but one that requires a heftier yet agile voice. This dashing young man moves well on stage and acts with conviction. His final arias “Tombe de mes aïeux... Bientôt l’herbe des champs croîtra” and “O bel ange dont les ailes” were elegantly yet movingly interpreted. His French diction is remarkable, no minor feat. Few singers, including native speakers, can do justice to French opera. French, with its diphthongs, is much more challenging to sing than Italian or German with pure vowels. With globalization, the distinct French school of singing has all but disappeared. Hearing this performance’s two leads sing with such style and eloquence gives one hope for the future of French opera.

Canadian Hugo Laporte was Henri, Lucie’s coercive brother. Despite his warm baritone, he did not seem as involved as his colleagues. He was most effective in his Act III duet with Edgard, “Soleil! Sur l’arène,” where he showed more emotion.

The character of Normanno, counsel and confidant of Enrico/Henri, Lucie’s brother, is changed to Gilbert, a much more substantial role. Gilbert is inherently evil, as he supposedly acts as a friend to and go‑between for the lovers Lucie and Edgard, but is actually a conniving accomplice in the subterfuge that makes each doubt the other’s faithfulness. In the Italian original, Enrico shows his sister a falsified love letter to another woman as proof of Edgardo’s disloyalty. In this French version, the slithery Gilbert momentarily steals Edgar’s engagement ring during the latter’s sleep and makes a copy that is later shown to Lucie to convince her of Edgard’s disloyalty, and subsequently to marry Sir Arthur. Though Gilbert has much more to sing than Normanno in the original Italian version, he has no arias to enjoy. Much of his work is to simply narrate the action. French tenor Yoann Le Lan excelled in portraying the nasty intriguer. Congratulations are due to Le Lan and to the director for having avoided excess, a facile choice when portraying evil.

Arturo, in the Italian original version, is a brief role. In this French adaptation, Sir Arthur is considerably more developed. This bridegroom is empathetic to Lucie’s apparent malaise. His concern is not out of mere jealousy but more a desire not to force her into marrying him against her will. French tenor Emmanuel Hasler portrayed Sir Arthur sympathetically and impressed with his limpid high tenor, contrasting with Edgard’s more virile tenor. Indeed, it’s impressive that this opera features three tenors: Edgard, Gilbert and Arthur, and all were beautifully cast.

The role of Alisa, Lucia’s companion, is eliminated in this French adaptation, making Lucie the only female voice in the famous Act II sextet “J’ai pour moi mon droit, mon glaive”. Together with Lucie’s higher register, the fact that it’s the only female voice renders the sextet considerably different from “Chi mi frena” in the Italian original. Tomislav Lavoie was more than adequate in the role of the Calvinist chaplain Raymond, a shorter role than Raimondo in its Italian incarnation. His effective duet in the 1835 original version is suppressed in the French adaptation.

The period was updated from the early eighteenth century in both Walter Scott’s novel and in the opera’s libretto to Donizetti’s time. Not much was gained from this alteration, but no harm was done either.

Director Nicola Berloffa must be lauded for the sobriety of his staging. This is my first Lucia/Lucie without a bloodied wedding gown after the gruesome stabbing. Certainly, this is not negligence on his behalf, but rather a deliberate desire to do away with convention. The spectator is to concentrate on Lucie rather than on the gore.

Andrea Belli’s sets for this production were quite modest, but effective. A suspended white structure with three walls is occasionally lowered at moments of extreme stress, such as Lucie’s “mad scene” or when Lucie is hounded by her brother into giving up Edgard. The constrained space does indeed evoke the protagonist’s despair. The three white walls may have also been a clin d’œil to a mental patient’s isolated room. In this production, Lucie/Lucia acts awkwardly in the scenes preceding her breakdown in the “mad scene,” as if to allude to a predisposition for mental illness. This is an appropriate choice in this more “rational” French adaptation.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni, an ideal bel canto conductor, led the orchestra with special attention to the singers’ needs. Some look down on Italian opera of this period but it’s clear Zeitouni holds an affection for this repertoire.

Québec City is the province’s capital, but it’s quite small compared to its major metropolis, Montréal. It’s a historic city with lots of charm, but one rarely thinks of opera when Québec City is mentioned. Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montréal, enjoy more active lyric scenes. L’Opéra de Québec’s season consists of two operas, one in the fall and another in the spring. However, the present production seems to augur positively for opera in the Québec capital, a pleasant surprise indeed.

A chat with a local opera enthusiast confirmed my intuition that someone quite able was at the helm of l’Opéra de Québec. Apparently, since the appointment of baritone Jean‑François Lapointe as artistic director, superlative singers have been routinely hired for the company’s productions. Lapointe, with his extensive experience on European stages, must have both an elaborate network of contacts and an impressive knowledge of the continent’s opera scene. Indeed, the cast of Lucie de Lammermoor could easily have been the one chosen for the best European opera house. Let’s hope l’Opéra de Québec will continue to dazzle with exceptionally well‑chosen singers, and that operatic rarities such as Lucie de Lammermoor grace its future stages.

Ossama el Naggar



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