There’s a buzz throughout the Four Seasons Centre on the opening night of Lucia. Perhaps it’s the start anew of the spring season or perhaps the audience is in on a little secret: ground is going to be broken tonight, and it’s going to blow you away.
Spring is about renewal and freshness, and that’s precisely what hit the stage when the curtain rose: a director who has not staged a show with the COC in thirty years and a vast majority of the cast debuting at the COC that night. There was certainly buzz around director David Alden’s production of Lucia, which debuted in 2008 at the English National Opera. The title role was developed for Anna Christy and you can certainly see why – when Christy sings, it’s all you want to listen to. With an absolute doll-like quality, she breaks your heart in every act. In an interview with Anna Christy for the “The Big COC Podcast,” Christy reveals that director David Alden asked her to give “less, less, less” and resulted in a mad scene that is all the more eerie.
The story is very much Lucia versus the men controlling her life, with nary a male figure on her side. However, Christy, herself, is in harmony with superb male voices and it is difficult to not write about each main performer. The audience applauded Stephen Costello’s “Tombe degli avi miei” as Edgardo waits for daybreak to fight Enrico and with good reason.
Along with a stellar cast, I adored the set design. Along the similar lines Alden gave Christy of the “less is more,” a simpler set was not short of details in any way. The use of lower levels was visually stunning, as a character was never higher than atop of a table. Often only a quarter of the stage was being used, yet the space never felt small.
The story takes place in Victorian Scotland, the bleak and weathered white walls resembled a mental institution and the lighting cast beautiful dark shadows that carried the heavy tone of the show. The stage pieces swung and moved in a seamless way, cleverly using the back of the wall pieces to further the starkness and bleak emotional tone. Details were strong all the way down to the glass harmonica in the mad scene, which were previously used in sanatoriums in the 19th century to induce hysteria.
Having read the plot summary before attending, I had a good understanding of what would unfold on stage. However, while watching what come to life in front of me, it struck a chord on how true to life this 178 year old production was. Particularly poignant was the stage within the stage where the drawn back curtain reveals the bloodied body of Arturo. At one point, Lucia is pacing back and forth on the stage while the chorus sits on chairs and watches. The crowd silently slow-claps the madness taking place in front of them.
Associate director Ian Rutherford adds in his notes that in the same Victorian era, mental health pioneer John Langdon Down was understanding and naming Down’s syndrome in his sanatoriums. As part of his treatment regimen, he incorporated theatres into the sanatoriums, and the public was invited to see performances by the patients. The belief was that it helped the patients, but audiences were fascinated by hysteria and madness.
I can’t help but draw similarities between the subjugation of Lucia by the men in her life and the news stories we’ve been recently been reading about. How those who were supposed to protect Lucia – her brother, her only surviving family member and guardian; the chaplain, the symbol of authority and goodness, fail her. There is a not-so subtle scene where Lucia’s brother literally ties to her to bedpost until she submits to his will.
Even Lucia’s lover, Edgardo does not listen to her and does not protect her, perhaps not quite the hero after all. Most of all, the chorus is often relegated to spectating, much as we do, exhibiting bystander apathy whether in person or on Twitter or any other platform. It is sad to say that this beautiful piece of theatre still mirrors devastating stories of today. This is a can’t-miss piece from the Canadian Opera Company and certainly one the strongest shows in audio, in visual and in emotional grit in recent memory.
Lucia di Lammermoor is on stage for seven more performances – April 26, 30, May 9, 12, 15, 18 and 24, 2013. For tickets, please visit www.coc.ca.