Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lucia di Lammermoor

Saturday I watched a Met HD movie theater broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. I enjoyed all of it - the singing, the acting, the costumes, the elaborate sets - except for what happened during the last minute. Unfortunately, the last minute was crucial.

Here is a skeletal summary of the plot:

Act 1:
Enrico needs to arrange a marriage between his sister Lucia and the powerful Lord Arturo to save his family fortunes and his home, Lammermoor Castle. However, Lucia has fallen in love with Enrico's enemy, Edgardo.

Lucia goes to the woods for a rendezvous with Edgardo. She sees the troubled ghost of a girl who was stabbed by her lover. Edgardo arrives and says that he must go to France for political reasons. Lucia and Edgardo exchange rings and vows.

Act 2:
Two months later. Enrico has carried out dirty tricks to scuttle Lucia's romance with Edgardo. First, he has had all of their letters intercepted. Then he shows Lucia a forged letter, purportedly from her lover Edgardo, that says that Edgardo has found another woman in France. Lucia is bewildered and agrees to marry Lord Arturo.

During the wedding ceremony at Lammermore, Edgardo returns from France to claim Lucia for his bride. Shocked at seeing her signature on the wedding contract, Edgardo curses her and leaves.

Act 3:
Enrico slips away from the wedding celebration to visit Edgardo and challenge him to a duel. They agree to meet at dawn at the graveyard.

Back at Lammermoor, the wedding festivities are halted by the news that Lucia has lost her mind and killed her new husband, Lord Arturo. Lucia descends the long spiral staircase, her wedding gown covered in blood. She is dazed. Enrico returns and is enraged with her until he realizes that she has gone mad. Lucia collapses.

At dawn, Edgardo waits for his duel with Enrico. Guests returning from Lammermoor tell Edgardo that Lucia has died. Lucia appears as a ghost, only visible to Edgardo. Edgardo despairs of life. Wishing to join Lucia in death, he decides to stab himself to death.

Well, right here the opera went terribly wrong, in my opinion. Lucia, as a troubled ghost, bends over Edgardo to help him shove the knife blade into his chest. It was at this moment that the opera changed from the story of two doomed lovers to a horror story. Turning poor Lucia into a female Jack Kevorkian was a miserable mistake on the part of the opera producer. I was reminded of a 1960s zombie movie where a young man rescues his girlfriend only to find to his horror that she has turned into a zombie and wants to gnaw on his skull.

The opera's final moments offered no catharsis and no reason to hope that the two lovers might find peace together, if only as ghosts. (The idea of Heaven seemed foreign to the opera producer's vision.) The opera leaves the audience with the chilling thought that Edgardo would be joined in death to a Lucia who was still deranged and violent.

If I had been forewarned and had shut my eyes for the last minute of the opera, I would have been able to give this otherwise fine production a completely positive review. Sad to say, a bitter aftertaste remains.