The Virginia Opera presents its final production of the season, Lucia di Lammermoor, this weekend at the Harrison Opera House. Lucia di Lammermoor is a sensitive portrait of a woman at the breaking point, fully expressed in the most haunting and well-known mad scene ever produced.
Expect high drama, incredible vocal displays, dynamic acting performances, gorgeous costumes, everything you could ask for in a night at the opera…and tickets start at just $18!
In Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic masterpiece, written in 1865, Lucia di Lammermoor’s relationship with Edgardo of Ravenswood is thwarted by her brother Enrico, who deceives her and coerces her to marry Arturo. When Edgardo discovers the marriage, he curses Lucia. She descends into madness and sings the aria, “Il dolce suono,” imagining she is with Edgardo.
In the context of today and this pivotal moment in history for women and feminism, Lucia de Lammermoor is rich material for a contemporary female performer. If the recent Oscars were any indication, the entertainment industry and our culture in general may finally be ready for stories with complex women at the center. I asked Rachele Gilmore, who plays the title role, how this nearly 200 year-old story reads to today’s audience.
“Lucia is a story that, unfortunately, many women today around the world most likely can still relate to; a woman being forced into a unwanted marriage for reasons beyond her control,” said Gilmore. “Even though Lucia di Lammermoor isn’t necessarily an idealistic portrayal of how we would like women to be treated, I think it’s important to keep telling the stories of the past, so not to forget how far we have come, and how much further we need to go as a society in regards to women’s rights.
“Despite her tragic ending, Lucia is a complex, strong, intelligent woman of her time, and in her own way, makes a stand for her right to live her life the way she wants and love whomever she wants.”
The production’s director, Kyle Lang, suggests that audiences may also see in the character of Enrico a bit of our current White House administration.
“The community’s leader is self-obsessed, cold, and overly-suspicious,” described Lang. “His advisors and counselors only feed his narrow and selfish desires, thus thrusting everyone into a dire situation. Very apropos with current events.”
I asked Lang what the role of Lucia, with its famed mad scene and vocal displays, requires from his lead performer.
“This role requires extreme preparation, lots of stamina, and intense communication,” said Lang. “The vocal range required for the role is staggering, and also requires a great deal of flexibility in the voice both in the upper and lower register. Additionally, it is a very layered role as an actor, and it is necessary to posses both pathos and ethos.
“I couldn’t be more excited to have Rachele on this journey. She has been very dedicated and specific, discovering subtle thoughts and energy that communicate so very well the complexity of this character.”
Gilmore spent years preparing for the role, and that scene, in particular.
“As opera singers, we spend many years perfecting our vocal technique, musical style and language skills to be able to perform operatic scenes like the Mad Scene,” explains Gilmore. “It’s a culmination of the many years of dedication we put in to be able to bring these brilliant scores to life.”
“I’ve always had a very strong connection to Donizetti’s music in Lucia,” added Gilmore. “I’ve been singing this role for almost 10 years now, and each time I play her again, I can bring new ideas and dimensions to the music and character.”
And if music and character weren’t enough, Lang adds that the wardrobe alone will wow audiences.
“There are many things special to this production, including the amazing costumes designed by Tony winner Catherine Zuber,” said Lang. “The costumes are in the 17th century Cavalier period, and are a beautiful display of design and execution. Though historically accurate by design, the wardrobe also provides a somewhat abstract sense of the circumstances surrounding our story by the use of color and texture.”
Virginia Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor comes to Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House on March 23, 25 and 27. Tickets range from $18.18 to $109.