Monday, October 09, 2006

Fourth Lucia in Paris

I'm sure glad I was there tonight. For a couple reasons. One, I love this production and cast. Two, some things went wrong tonight, and it was quite thrilling to see.

First, from Lucia's opening lines, I noticed that Natalie Dessay was having an off night. The first and third performances I attended were vocally perfect. In the second the voice was slightly vulnerable. But tonight, the voice was remarkably different. The tone wasn't as clear. There were a few breaks in her voice. I didn't have a pitch fork out, but I believe she replaced the high E-flat that she did on the other nights with a lower pitch (D-flat?) at the end of "Regnava nel silenzio" and at the end of the wedding dress scene. She compensated for the weaknesses, however, with ferocious acting.

A couple things went wrong on stage. The first was at the end of the Lucia-Edgardo duet. There's a swing in this production [when I stop feeling lazy I'll link to a previous post where I youtubed a video clip I took of said swing; in the meantime, you can just scroll down for it], and at the end of the duet, Edgardo pushes Lucia and they play around. He jumps in front before she swings back, etc. Anyway, tonight, at the end, something weird happened (I didn't see exactly what) and Matthew Polenzani didn't catch Dessay or she was unable to stop, and, with her standing on it, the swing kept swinging and jerked forward. She held on tight and kept singing. Polenzani looked a little nervous and shot a glance at Pido. Dessay could have easily fallen, and Pido would have had to stop the orchestra. The professionals that they are, the scene ended smoothly and the audience probably didn't notice.

The other mishap was significantly more dramatic, and I'm even grateful for it because it led to one of the most memorable scenes I have ever seen on stage. So, the set includes a bunch of large metal ladder-like things that fold across the stage. But something strange happened and the large folded ladder that's meant to create a huge triangle at the center of the stage did not descend properly. This triangle/pyramid contraption is important because Dessay climbs over it, up the left end, down the right end (where she slides down, actually) during "Spargi d'amaro pianto." It's quite fun to watch. Anyway, since it didn't descend properly, when she walked over there, a couple stage people (dressed as supers--maybe they were supers?) who had tried to fix it indicated to her that she is not to mount. Because she was distracted by this, Dessay eliminated the wonderful scream that she usually does just as the "il fantasma!" music plays, right before "Spargi".

She walked stage left, and knew she had to improvise. Boy, did she improvise! Because she didn't have this large thing to climb, she had to fill all of the dramatic space. She picked up a large hay fork that's used in the production--the priest holds up Lucia's dead husband's hat and a bloody cloth on it. Arturo (who is extremely creepy in this production) brandishes it at some of the young couples on stage. Anyway, as she's singing, she wields the very large tool. Since this clearly had not been rehearsed, it was a little odd--the hat and bloody cloth fell off at some point. Dessay brandished the fork at the characters on stage. At the end of the first part of the aria, she flung the fork on the stage with a loud crash. She picked up the bloody cloth and threw it across the stage. She kicked a couple balloons, and one fell in the orchestra put. Right before her last phrase (the famous "Ah" that ends in a climactic E-flat), she started trembling, looking utter confused, sad, ecstatic. I have never seen such intensity on stage. For the first time, she screamed after singing, crying out, laughing/sobbing. I'm not sure what state Lucia was in, but it was scary. The ambiguity made it even scarier. The lights stayed on her shaking body for longer than usual.

The ovations were intense. Her curtain call (in this production, the Opera allows a curtain call following the mad scene) featured a standing ovation. She glared at Pido (or someone)--It must have been tough for her to have to improvise dramatically.

The other news is that I've totally changed my mind about Polenzani. Yes, it took four performances, but I finally got it. It's possible that he's gotten better over the run. Or maybe he's just grown on me. I don't know. He has a rich, beautiful voice, and his high notes are remarkable. He can be ferocious or sweet. His pianissimi are the best I could imagine in a tenor. And dramatically I found him to be quite compelling tonight. His final scene remains the best, again drawing tears. And Dessay, who appears in this scene as a phantom or angel or something, is utterly beautiful. I'll never forget that gorgeous image. The opera ends, in this production, with Dessay leaning against the frame of stage right, laughing ecstatically in her gorgeous wedding dress.

Of the eleven performances, two remain. This was my last, and I'm delighted to have attended several performances of this exciting and beautifully sung production.

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