Above: harpist Mariko Anraku of The Met Orchestra
Wednesday April 1st, 2015 - As the 1950s evolved into the 1960s and I was just beginning to develop an interest in opera, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR was a work everyone seemed to be talking about. Joan Sutherland's leap to stardom at Covent Garden and her subsequent Met debut as Donizetti's hapless bride were big news at the time. And on December 9th, 1961, Sutherland's Met broadcast debut marked the first time I ever tuned in to one of the Texaco-sponsored radio performances, the beginning of my intense-passion phase of opera-loving, which has now lasted over 50 years.
Since the, I have experienced many wonderful Lucias: Beverly Sills in her prime in New York City Opera's ultra-complete rendering of the score; Renata Scotto at her bel canto peak; Rita Shane, Patricia Brooks, Patricia Wise, Sutherland's memorable return to the role (Met/1982), Mariella Devia, June Anderson, Gianna Rolandi, Edita Gruberova. Then there were the duds, like Natalie Dessay's pallidly sung and hyper-active interpretation.
Tonight Albina Shagimuratova showed herself in good standing among this list of sopranos. She has a sizable lyric voice, good coloratura skills, and clear, sustained high-D's. Once is a while she drew an extra breath in the midst of a line, or rushed ahead slightly. But overall she had many fine passages, notably her sustained "O sventurata amor!" in the duet with Enrico.
In the afternoon, word came out that Michael Fabiano would be replacing Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. In my last two encounters with Mr. Fabiano in-house (as Cassio in OTELLO and Alfred in FLEDERMAUS), he showed worrying signs of pushing the voice. There was a bit of that tonight, but overall his passionate style and big-hearted vocalism seemed right for this desperately romantic hero. He was especially ardent in his verse of "Verrano a te...", and his ringing denunciation of Lucia in the Contract scene was exciting.
Neither Luca Salsi (Enrico) nor Oren Gradus (Raimondo) were entirely satisfying vocally. Mr. Salsi tended to bluster, and Mr. Gradus alternated good passages with unsettled ones. Matthew Plenk sounded fine as Arturo - a short but vocally testing role - though conductor Maurizio Benini rushed thru the character's little arietta and his exchange with Enrico, leaving the tenor to make somewhat less of an impression than he could have. Theodora Hanslowe was a notable Alisa; opening cuts in the ensemble that ends Act II means for some exposed, sustained notes for Alisa and Ms. Hanslowe seized the opportunity impressively.
The musical highlight of the evening was the Act I harp solo, performed by Mariko Anraku. She played with great delicacy and expressiveness, bringing an appropriately ghostly resonance to the music. Added musical flourishes were enchantingly woven into the melodic line; I've heard this solo played superbly many times, but there was something very special about Ms. Anraku's interpretation. Brava!!
There was no notice of the change of Edgardos posted at the entry to the hall, nor any slip in the Playbill. Peter Gelb announced the replacement from the stage, describing Mr. Fabiano as 'brilliant'...which may be true, but that's for the audience rather than the management to decide.
There were an alarming number of empty seats on every level. The first intermission was endless; after Act II I had to decide whether to endure another long break and get home at midnight, or leave and forego the big scenes for soprano and tenor that were still to come. I opted to leave, with regret. The management seem unaware of the fact that these long intermissions drain the life out of every Met performance. They are in fact one of the main reasons for going less often, and for choosing a $12 score desk over a $30 seat: if you're not staying for the entire opera, why pay more?
Metropolitan Opera House
April 1, 2015
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Flute Solo: Denis Bouriakov
Harp Solo: Mariko Anraku