From the low rumble of bass drums and the forlorn horn call, the LA Opera's production of Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" is a dark, haunting tragedy of scheming betrayal and true love. It opens with a darkened stage with a window on red glowing clouds at the back. a procession of about five people with burning torches appear to be searching for someone. Enrico and Raimondo, the chaplain are enraged when Normanno tells them that Enrico's sister Lucia is in love with his bitter enemy Edgardo. The wall of Enrico's castle at the right of the stage separates to become the ruins of Edgardo's Ravenwood. The frightened Lucia tells her maid Alisa how a jealous man murdered his lover by the fountain, and she has seen her ghost. Edgardo appears and he and Lucia sing a soaring duet of their love for . and betrothal to each other. This is about the only happy moment in the opera, and it is tempered by Lucia's fear of Enrico. Alisa stands at the top of the stone steps silhouetted against the blue, cloudy background as she keeps watch.
After Edgardo leaves for France, a blood red backdrop against Enrico and associates at a big dinner table give an eerie feeling, like "MacBeth." They plot to get Lucia to marry the rich Arturo. The castle wall is dull gray, like a prison, and a painting that looks like a grotesque Rubens with a hunter killing a bull, with a black bird of prey attacks it, is at the back. Aside from the few touches of red, everything is black and gray. Lucia, dressed in white, is terrified that Edgardo is unfaithful. When she reads the forged letter, she staggers to the edge of the stage, and back again. She can't bring herself to embrace her brother and staggers to the other side before Enrico throws her to the ground. After Raimondo finally persuades her, she struggles half-heartedly with Enrico before signing the marriage contract. As the revellers celebrate, Edgardo appears and silences the stunned crowd. In the trio every accusation makes her recoil, like from a blow. She's completely stripped of her will and is subservient as she gets pushed here and there as she psychically crumbles. It's total desolation, from set to Edgardo, to Lucia.
The Third Act opens with thunder and lightning against a stormy sky for a backdrop. Edgardo rages like the storm amid the ruins. He's taunted by Enrico, who challenges him to a duel. Revellers with torches cast a firey glow. They're celebrating her marriage to Arturo, but there's a frantic feel to it. It's forced and unnatural. Lucia appears as if from the grave at the top of the stairs. she's covered with Arturo's blood, and raving mad. The crowd watches horrified. They do a surrealistic minuet around he as she sings to Edgardo. He meanwhile, longs for death as he imagines her happiness. Snow falls around him in his isolation. A funeral procession tells him of Lucia as we move to the tragic climax.
Sumi Jo is a tremendous Lucia. She's vulnerable and real. She gets battered about with the verbal assaults and schemes. She's broken down slowly but steadily, until she has no resistance left. when she finally goes completely mad, it's not over the top, but she has just moved to another plane where she can no longer be hurt. She's very methodical and very real. Frank Lopardo is every bit as good as Edgardo. He's strong and true. Their duets soar. He's passionately driven, genuinely hurt when he thinks she has betrayed him, and reduced to abject pain at the end. Everyone else, except Alisa, is just plain evil. Gino Quilio's Enrico sees nothing but his own ends. Even after Lucia has killed Arturo, he throws her to the ground because she has upset his plans. Jamie Offenbach's Raimondo gains Lucia's confidence to make her bend to Enrico's will. He's the slyest of them all. The production is mostly in dark hues, with a few patches of red here and there. Lucia is the one spot of white. She is completely stifled by the darkness around her, though, and is ultimately swallowed up by it. Richard Bonynge conducts this riveting production of "Lucia di Lammmermoor" at the LA Opera. Performances continue June 2,5,8,11,&13.