Long time no see hun? Shame on me! I’ve been home a lot, but actually taking the free time I’m getting to study and writing these babies takes up a lot of time. I also have been watching a lot of episodes of the series Poirot, if there’s an author I love that is Agatha Christie and if there’s a detective I adore it is definitely M. Hercule Poirot.
But let’s talk about opera, shall we? Last Wednesday I watched the Munich broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor with Diana Damrau as Lucia, Joseph Calleja as Egardo and Ludovic Tézier as Enrico. It was done as a concert as opposed to being staged but it was magnificent. I haven’t watched many productions of this opera I must admit, I think I’ve only watched one, the Met’s 2007 with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala that I thought was rather good, but didn’t really like Anna’s Lucia.
One thing I find most revolting is that, for instance with Lucia, you can’t talk about Lucia without bringing Joan Sutherland into the conversation, or about Traviata without bringing Callas in. I mean really, that EXAUSTS me. We all know that was probably Sutherland’s best role and that it took YEARS for another soprano to portray Violetta in La Scala without being booed out of there. So, I’m sorry, but when I’m talking about Diana Damrau’s Lucia I don’t want to hear in how many ways this or that person thinks that Sutherland is better than her.
Why? Why do we have to point out THE BEST of everything? Diana was fantastic, just like Sutherland, but they are different people! Sutherland was born in Australia and did opera from the late 1950s till the 1980s while Damrau was born in Germany in the late 1970s and is a current performer. Many things that were asked of Sutherland aren’t asked of current opera singers and many things that are asked of modern opera singers nowadays didn’t even cross the past generation singers mind! That’s why I HATE comparing the generations! Actually I hate comparisons in general, I think everybody tries their best to bring what they feel is their interpretation to the picture. Anyways I’ve extended myself too much on this, let’s get down to the opera.
This broadcast was quite a treat, first because I thought it was just an audio broadcast so you can image the amount of happiness that emanated from me when I learned I’d be able to SEE Diana Damrau. Now she was perfection, she’s done this character quite a few times so you can see that she’s got a real grasp of who Lucia is and her road into madness.
What I really liked about this concert was that some of the performers didn’t keep themselves chained to the sheet music and actually interacted with each other. Like for instance the first duet of Lucia and Egardo in act one, they actually hugged and took each other’s hands and looked each other in the eye while singing which was so fantastic to see! I had no idea that Joseph Calleja’s and Diana Damrau’s voices would sound SO utterly perfect together. Gosh I don’t know what it was but that first duet made me wish there were more intimate duets of the two characters later in the opera. Calleja has got a little bit of that squillo (that PING in the voice, you know? It’s pointy but not Rossini tenor pointy but still a bit pointy) and a vibrant vibrato and how amazing it was that it fit quite gracefully with Diana’s light but lyrical color voice! Well that first duet was so delicious to listen to, I had the dumbest dreamy took on my face.
We go on to act two and what a confrontation between brother and sister, I hadn’t seen Ludovic Tézier sing ever since that Gala Concert he did with Netrebko, Garanca and Vargas which I found a shame because he’s a wonderful singer. I like this kind of baritone, full and big voiced, slightly deep but not too much, plus I think he’s kinda hot. But not important, what kinda disappointed me a bit was that he was too tied up to the sheet music and didn’t interact as much as the others, but who am I to judge? If I were in his place I wouldn’t even move. Haha But nevertheless he sounded divine and in his duet with Diana we see how these singers have such beautiful ability so express specific feelings through the voice (of course the text helps).
Because for me the character of Enrico is very layered and has many facets (as opposed to the others that have the same face, what changes is the emotions they feel), Enrico is the famous “two faced” character. Like Otello’s Iago, but with Verdi’s music, I think, his good/evil moments were greatly helped by the music and in Donizetti, because the character isn’t as vile as Iago, it’s more subtle.
Also the journey towards Lucia’s madness, I think, begins to really take its way in this duet, before she was just seeing things but she was confident that was going to end up with Egardo. But now that she thinks he’s been unfaithful everything starts to crumble, together with the pressure of her brother to save the family estate, there is so much one can bare, right? I really love it that she’s kind of frozen from the moment she agrees to marry Arturo until Egardo appears; she seems to come out of her trance. But for Egardo there is no excuse she can give for her betrayal to him, now Damrau’s pleads are heart breaking and the final sextet was mind blowing.
Third act the moment we were all waiting for, mad scene. This mad scene had me hanging for every single note, I’m listening to it right now again as I write this and am literally breathless. What is wonderful about Damrau is that apart from the beautiful voice, the woman can act. And she don’t need no costume or props, right there she made us all believe she was wearing a blood soaked wedding dress and going completely bananas!
Jesus Christ almighty those high notes were so fantastic, of course she is great technically, but there are SO many people who are great technically but fail to give a performance such as this. I’m not saying technique is not important, no, actually it is vital, but what ALSO is vital, is believing in your character, not judging him. Not just walking in and thinking “Ok, I’m playing Lucia, she’s going crazy, so I’ll make my best crazy face” or even worst not doing anything at all just singing in pitch perfectly, that for me is death.
That is, I think, what Joyce DiDonato in her ROH Master Class said was generic opera, and I must quote her on this “There is nothing worse than generic opera, am I right? It’s ridiculous. We look stupid when we are doing that!”. Plus I think it’s utterly disrespectful towards the character and its creator, I mean, really, who are you to judge? You’re just a singer, have you ever had hallucinations and then were forced to marry a man you don’t love while your lover curses you after he’s found out which leads to you killing your husband on your wedding night? I don’t think so. And thank heavens I feel Diana really respects Lucia and does an amazing job portraying her.
I feel like I’m a little mad at everything I don’t like today, this post is kind of revolted. But back to the mad scene, the glass harmonica starts playing and we see Diana walking in with half closed eyes and I’m like “Damn this is gonna be GOOD!”. Just the glass harmonica itself with it’s almost hypnotically sound transports us into Lucia’s tormented mind and kind of helps us understand her state. Her first lines delivered with such sweetness, and then the word “discesa” in the most perfect piano melted my heart! Ah it’s wonderful to watch such bliss coming not just through the voice but in her eyes every time she says “Egardo”, she’s so happy! She almost doesn’t seem mad at all, but the glass harmonica does its job to keep us aware that she is in a dream state. And I also think it’s wonderful that she doesn’t appear to be mad at the beginning if you just listen to it not thinking of the plot, I think it shows she’s really gone the extra mile to convince us of her happiness and love.
But of course as the aria continues and the music becomes a little bit more tense with “Un gelo mi serpeggia nel sen!” you realize she’s not alight at all. It’s amazing her instrument is SO in her control, she gives us exactly the right amount of sound and depth that the notes delivered need. Then the little mad theme comes along with the ghosts and she totally changes, it’s quite incredible “Il fantasma ne separa!” in a forte desperate and scared cry. Two seconds later she just poof changes again, that change I found quite fun, she does a thing with her arms that’s pretty cool as if they shoed away the ghosts and she doesn’t even remember they were there in the first place.
For her now, Egardo is right in front of her and it’s their wedding day! Oh, how wonderful is Damrau’s portrayal of Lucia’s excitement about her wedding, she actually conducts the wedding music with such delight and such pleasure it’s impossible not to be touched. And how happy she is, it’s almost like a child’s delight, she’s so happy she can hardly contain herself. And it’s funny how you know it’s a mad kind of happy because when she was actually REALLY planning to marry Egardo she wasn’t happy like that, she didn’t express her happiness in that way. And she talks about her bliss with the seriousness of a child, especially when she sings “…e non si dice!”. She is literally melting with delight which is so sad and makes me melt with depression, good depression, meaning I feel for her not that I’m really depressed.
And the coloratura is just unbelievable, she gives a meaning to every passage and tells the story through her coloratura which is one of the things that make this performance SO good! My favorite part of this whole thing is when the glass harmonica starts echoing her line and she starts to listen to it and again, like a child, plays with it, as if daring the instrument to go as high as she does it’s quite a treat! Then there’s a passage when for the first time she’s brought back to the real world and sees herself drenched in blood which quickly changes into her really acting normal mad with the bogey eyes and everything. But as she sings, what I like to call her little mad theme she’s taken back to that particular happy mad place that she was. If someone can coloratura through madness that person is Diana Damrau, Gosh, as I said before, every coloratura phrase is a different kind of mad and it’s so clear. You get goose pups, you don’t know what coming next, she could faint at any minute or jump right at you! And the last note was glorious and she well deserved those two minutes she got of ovation.
At this point I was thanking God I wasn’t there, because I’d A- be crying B- I’d have sprung to my feet to applaud her like a retarded person.
Then she confronts her brother, mad eyes, but with meaning, it’s very different from generic mad eyes. Then she continues her madness with more and more coloratura in a more andante aria which builds into a pile of nerves and anticipation that could only conclude to a splendid final note by Damrau that brought the house down. Her “aaaah si, aaaah si!” were beautiful and her ornamentation was just right for her, not overdone, so you could still recognize the music which I find most important and which unfortunately sometimes does not happen.
For me, and most people I believe, the opera could end right there, ‘cause it really can’t get any better than this, right? I feel for the tenor who plays Egardo because he has to bring his best game to equal Lucia’s madness. I remember when I first saw Lucia and was so very moved by Egardo’s aria at the end, I actually cried, especially because she appears as a ghost to come and take him with her, it’s so SAD! And Joseph’s rendition of the aria was very heart breaking and from the gut, you know? You could see that he was giving it his all and I love to see that.
Ok, this post is four pages long and I need to study! And if you guys want to watch this magnificent concert just click here. Today there is an OPERAROX live show, fairy tales in opera is the theme and it’s always pretty awesome so I recommend to all who love opera and love to talk about it. It’s a pretty nice safe place to do just that and make friends! Cheers everyone!
Ps; the smells coming from the kitchen are killing me! I’m hungry!