An entirely modern meltdown in Met’s recreated ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

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NEW YORK – Lammermoor is not what it used to be. Or at least it was not Saturday night at the Metropolitan Opera.

In Simon Stone’s visually stunning and conceptually arresting production of Donizetti’s enduring opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” from 1835, the lush hills and wild landscape of 18th-century Scotland have been paved and replaced with the living ruins of the American rust belt: a pawn shop. , a cheap motel, a liquor store, an ATM that charges too much. Its natural glories now artificial and screaming; its mysteries now a mini market.

But while its surfaces may seem familiar at first, this depraved, unidentified stain of dystopia reveals itself in the course of three carefully modernized acts as a far more irreconcilable landscape. It is a mixture of Lucia’s inner and outer terrain, a hybrid of a hard life and an unruly dream.

Stone sends out a huge arsenal of devices, effects and, yes, some direct gimmicks to turn Lucia’s descent into madness from the inside out and pull the story into a contemporary context, like a bride for an unwanted wedding.

This includes Alice Babidge and Blanca Añón’s costumes (which find soprano Nadine Sierra’s Lucia in an instantly iconic ensemble of frosted jeans and a cropped pink parka) and Lizzie Clachan’s spectacular rotating set. It was in almost constant motion, cycling through an increasingly claustrophobic loop that would feel familiar to anyone who grew up in a small town: its features fragmented and split with Lucia’s psyche in a slow vortex that begins to feel more like a vortex.

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But most evident among the Stones’ various bells and whistles are the screens and cameras, which in true 21st century form are everywhere.

Camera crews chase the scene, follow the characters and integrate themselves into the wedding party, sending a live feed of footage to a “split-screen” suspended over the action. (When the curtain is raised, a caption read on the screen: “Lucia: Close-ups of a Cursed Life”, which caused a murmur of apparent concern for the audience.) Other times, the screen is used for flashbacks and carvings for real and hallucinatory events. And as Lucia unravels, the division of the screen creates the gap between Lucia’s reality and everyone else’s.

Screens also emerge in the form of social media, where photos on Facebook and Instagram play key roles in a fictional betrayal, and where the distinctions between reality and fantasy are further tested. Between the camera crews and the characters’ smartphones, the question of how Lucia defines her own destiny becomes increasingly filled.

Although Sierra has sung this role several times, it’s a new Lucia – one who fumbles around in her big purse for her iPhone and lipstick; sneaking out of his bedroom window and down the fire escape for a night on the town; gossiping with his girlfriend behind the screen at a disused drive-in (restlessly showing Bob Hope’s 1947 comedy “My Favorite Brunette”); who takes selfies with his forbidden lover, Edgardo (sensually sung by tenor Javier Camarena).

And in a moment conspicuously stretched by Stone in a slow-motion glide into ecstasy, she also immerses a shot of a mysterious elixir from the local pharmacy – one that seems to introduce ghosts, initiate a deepening despair and invoke (to uncertain effect) the opioid crisis. This is a Lucy Ashton by Laura Palmer.

It should be noted here that Edgardo is not the only one whose relationship with Lucia is complicated. Scan reviews of the many returns to Lammermoor by the Met over the past few decades and you will find a long tradition of critics and salty audiences working far harder to protect Lucia from attack than her violent brother, Enrico, ever have done. (Sometimes it just means booing the creative team.)

For example, in 1992, a young Francesca Zambello made her Met stage directorial debut with a “Lucia” set “in the half-seen realm of the unconscious”, which was drenched with buh and sharp reviews. When it attempted a comeback two years later, New York The Times’ Bernard Holland dryly advised the Met to “get this production out of the books as soon as it can.”

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Four years later, a conceptually restrained olive branch production by the French director Nicolas Joel was equally paralyzed to, among other things, play the story for sure and abandon any noticeable point of view. A subsequent production of Mary Zimmerman proved appropriate for the Met audience, bringing many talented and bloodthirsty Lucia to their knees on the Met stage (Diana Damrau, Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay and Pretty Yende among them).

But those who seek to fiddle with the opera again often find themselves in a similar predicament as Lucia: Damn if you do, damn if you do not.

Stone does not seem to give a damn about any of these, and chooses an approach that renounces fidelity in favor of an aggressive examination of the inner and outer forces that besiege Lucia’s reason. The Australian director created waves with his 2016 production of Federico García Lorca’s “Yerma”, and again with a 2019 production of Cherubini’s “Médée” at the Salzburg Festival. One could say that women on the brink of a nervous breakdown have become something of a sweet spot.

Yet, despite all the changes Stone has made, he has also retained the exquisite silhouette of Donizetti’s music, which throughout the opera was conducted with tenderness, intention, and intriguing dynamic elasticity by Riccardo Frizza. If anything, the fidelity of the music provided the basis for the intersecting realities of staging, which at times struggled to capture attention in the right places. Mariko Anraku’s harp and Friedrich Heinrich Kern’s turn on the glass mouth harmonica were particularly beautiful, and the latter’s noise captured the twists and turns of Lucia’s mind.

And the song across the cast was amazing. The Camarena gave Edgardo a sweetness and softness that only made his heartache swear more sharply in his show-stopping last aria. The Polish baritone Artur Ruciński turned a lovely abominable Enrico, his office with wooden panels filled with dilapidated banknotes, into a perfect cage for the wounded animals of his voice. One could read desperation all over his face – even though the tattoos were harder to see. And bassist Matthew Rose embodied one of the finest Raimondos I have heard, the authority of his voice routinely softened by a deep and conflict-filled compassion.

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Sierra’s Lucia was fiery and quirky – and with her great reliance on close-ups and seemingly honest moments stolen through the camera, she also proved to be an arresting actress. If the goal of a Lucia really is the “crazy scene”, Sierra really rose to the occasion – or collapsed as it was. She adorned her last aria, as if merrily decorating a dead tree, fully committed to Lucia’s complete detachment. (Although I wished we had more lead to the meltdown, more than the traces we got of cracks in her calm.) In her final moments, she trained her gaze on the camera and disappeared behind the opera’s artifice. , it was as if she was staring into your soul – or her phone.

Of course, this seems like the intended effect of Stone’s experiment: a blurring of distance and intimacy, an equation of achievement and reality. “Lucia di Lammermoor” is an opera experience that lands somewhere between the rubble of a wiped out fourth wall and an episode of “Euphoria”. I could barely recognize Lucia, but I’ve never seen her so clearly either.

Lucia of Lammermoor runs through May 21 at the Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York. Visit metopera.com for tickets and information.

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