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Madness makes divine opera

    Nancy Allen Lundy as Lucia and Jorge Lopez-Yanez as Edgardo star in Hawaii Opera Theatre's "Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Donizetti’s "Lucia di Lammermoor" has the most famous mad scene in all opera: Forced to betray the one she loves and to marry another to save her family’s fortunes, Lucia murders her husband on their wedding night, emerging bloody and raving.

It’s the scene that everyone goes to see, and the one that secured Lucia’s place in history.

For an entire scene, Lucia hallucinates, hears voices, rages and wanders in a vocal tour de force that mesmerizes as much for its technical challenges as for its incoherence and startling beauty. The part demands a "coloratura" voice, which is less about the high notes that people notice than about the ability to color the vocal timbre.

Music portrays madness as no other medium can, making audible a largely invisible inner condition. All the blood and deranged hair help, of course, but it is the music that convinces and that allows the audience to experience madness vicariously.

Into Lucia’s madness, Donizetti wove a flute (the voices and music she hears): Gradually, the orchestra drops out, the conductor stops conducting, and the two are in duet, alone together in their own little world. It’s a magical moment.

The rest of the opera is mostly build up and fall out — her brother Enrico rages, her tutor Raimondo placates, her husband Arturo dies and her lover Edgardo commits suicide — but as with all stories, the details are what make it come alive.

"Lucia di Lammermoor" is "bel canto" (beautiful singing) opera, with all the conventions of the early 19th century focused on the voices, and HOT’s Director Karen Tiller cast accordingly, presenting a strong ensemble.


By Gaetano Donizetti, a Hawaii Opera Theatre production
» Performances: Today, 4 p.m. and Tuesday, 7 p.m.
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: Box office, 596-7858 or 800-836-7372
» Prices: $42 to $120

Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy has created an excellent Lucia, a tall, thin and fragile character who inhabits the twilight between sanity and madness even in the early scenes. Hers was less a hair-raising than a light-voiced and beautiful madness, built on strong acting and vocal control.

With such a central character, the rest of the cast faces quite a challenge being noticed.

As Edgardo, Jorge Lopez-Yanez met and surpassed that challenge with a true bel canto tenor — powerful, warm, rock-solid in every range, and a ringing tone. His is a thrilling voice, beautifully trained and perfectly placed. If you’ve ever wondered what fine bel canto sounds like — this is it.

Gregory Gerbrandt (Enrico) has a commanding baritone but sang at the top of his dynamic range through most of the first scenes, perhaps trying to live up to his " Barihunk" nickname. He eventually settled more comfortably into his part, and his acting made Lucia’s brother both loving and abusive, which explained some of her fragility.

Bass Valerian Ruminski (Raimondo) was excellent throughout, and tenor Jeremy Blossom was perfectly cast as the luckless bridegroom. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Billington Stevens, tenor Erik D. Haines and the HOT Chorus were notable supporting roles.

HOT’s elaborate, impressive sets had a trade-off in increased time between scene changes, exacerbating the opera’s clunky structure (typical for "number" operas such as this) and making a not-particularly-long opera feel longer.

The sets, combined with lighting designer Peter Dean Beck’s magic, conjured a mood reminiscent of Friedrich David paintings: a Romantically dark and misty world of ruins and chiaroscuro lighting, set in a perpetual twilight that deepened into night only in the final scenes. One of Beck’s many lovely touches was intensifying the darkness when the men square off to fight.

Donizetti was perhaps most famous for his beautiful, melodious writing, nicely conveyed by the orchestra and conductor Michael Ching. Despite how some of Donizetti’s music reveals its age (plucked arpeggiated accompaniments and happy tunes in tragic scenes), it has many stunning moments, including a gorgeous harp solo introducing the Fountain Scene by Constance Uejio and an entrancing flute solo in the Mad Scene by Susan McGinn.

Ruth O. Bingham received her doctorate in musicology from Cornell University and has been reviewing the musical arts for more than 20 years.


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