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Dark, dramatic 'Lucia' a fitting Opera finale

The Virginia Opera Association closed its current season Sunday in the Carpenter Center on a thematically and appropriately tragic note, rounding off its seasonal roster of operas that support the idea that “love that is not madness is not love” with one of the great operatic works dealing with love gone real bad, Donizetti‘s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

From the opening ominous sounds of the Donizetti score, you know things are not going to turn out well in the tale of love, deceit, revenge and death. The essence is that Scottish lass Lucia is tricked into ditching Edgardo, her lover and her brother Enrico’s enemy, and marrying rich guy Arturo to help realign Enrico’s finances; she ends up murdering Arturo on their wedding night and goes mad. Meanwhile, Edgardo, on hearing what happened, commits suicide. And there you are: love’s madness in full.

“Lucia” is one of those bel canto operas that defines high art and drama and, as such, requires singers who can really act. VOA has assembled a terrific cast, from principals on down, all of whom deliver strong vocal efforts as well as fine dramatic portrayals. And, to help shape the comings and goings of the talented cast was director Kyle Lang, who delivered a compelling and dramatic product, and conductor Ari Pelto who provided continuity between the pit and the stage. The result was a powerful and dynamic product that was one of the Opera’s best total endeavors of its substantially fine lot.

Coloratura soprano Rachele Gilmore was vocally stunning as Lucia. The role is among the toughest in the repertoire for its vocally gymnastic requirements that find the soprano in sky high range, especially in Act III wherein she sings incredibly difficult and extended passages. Her voice is as pure as it gets, fluid, and fine, as she easily illustrated here. I dare say Gilmore’s Lucia is hard to beat anywhere. Simply mind blowing accuracy and excellence. And, on top of that, her portrayal of Lucia going insane was brilliant. If there were a Tony-type award for acting, she’d get it.

Cast as her lover was tenor-actor Joseph Dennis, who also regaled us with a solid, pitch-perfect voice and ability to project that made him a super match for Lucia.

Tim Mix was simply and wonderfully menacing as the evil brother, his facial expressions and stage movements oozing ill will. As with the rest of the cast, his vocal skills were paramount in making this “Lucia” a significant success, his strong baritone even reflecting dastardly deeds in tone and presentation. Very impressive.

Rounding off the performances were Bille Bruley, whose brief time on stage as Arturo, allowed us to hear his fine tenor; bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba as Raimondo; tenor Stephen Carroll as Normanno; and mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti as Alisa.

While the Act II sextet and the mad scene arias for Lucia are the moments most remembered in “Lucia,“ this “Lucia’s” vocal excellence was so constant, aided immensely by a rock solid chorus, that attention was riveted from start to finish.

“Lucia’s” visual design smartly merged Driscoll Otto’s projections and imagery with dark and ominous lighting to create somewhat stylized sets that, with Catherine Zuber’s costumes, provided a perfect accompaniment for the perfect singing taking place.

Pelto and the Richmond Symphony provided rich results, supplying Donizetti‘s score with appropriate shades of emotion and support that, combined with all the other factors, led to this extraordinarily well rounded and well done “Lucia.”

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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