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Opera Santa Barbara's "Lucia di Lammermoor" is a powerful drama with gorgeous sets and costumes, and a first rate cast from top to bottom. Stage Director Yefim Maizel updates the production to the period of the novels of Jane Austin in the 18th century.

The mood is set right at the beginning. Lucia appears, almost as an apparition behind a hazy scrim. She's tormented and when she bends down to pick up the dagger, her white robes are bathed in red light. When the curtain rises, it's on a castle which has fallen mostly into ruins. Everything's broken, even the proscenium arch is a broken picture frame with the super titles projected on a flat part of it. The whole set has a musty feel, and fog rolls in from the sides. The Chorus tells Enrico of the secret love of his sister for his hated enemy, Edgardo. Enrico needs her to marry Arturo to strengthen a political alliance and now we have the stuff of opera.

Lucia appears behind a scrim seated at the top of a multi-level platform. She's bathed in a golden refracted light and playing a harp. It's an angelic scene, as people are gathered around her on various levels, and two hold candelabras. The curtain falls, then rises on a garden where Lucia recounts the story of Ravenswood. A man consumed with jealousy, stabbed his lover, and her ghost has appeared to Lucia. Her companion, Alicia is horrified: when she's joined for the duet by Edgardo, we learn that Enrico has killed his father and stolen his inheritance. Lucia won't let him ask for her hand. She renounces all other feelings but love, and they declare their love for each other as husband and wife, and exchange rings.

Act 2 is set in what appears to be Enrico's Hunting Lodge with his game trophys on the wall. He, by turns, commands and begs Lucia to marry Arturo because his political opponents have risen and Arturo will strengthen him. You can feel her being ripped apart and start to lose her grip. Raimondo pleads with her on behalf of her recently deceased mother, brother, and himself to give herself as a victim for love of her family. She gives in, for now.

It's the wedding celebration and everyone is happy. Lucia is led in and she looks like she's going to her own execution. Arturo has his doubts because he has heard the rumors. Raimondo and Enrico try to reassure him. Lucia is finally pressured to sign the marriage contract just as Edgardo bursts in. This is one of the most effective moments in the staging, as he's poised at the left front of the stage, with everyone balanced against him positioned in a "v" to the right rear. That group is then broken in two and half moves toward the left rear as Edgardo positions himself to the center. They do the sextet, Lucia is ecstatic at Edgardo, Enrico realizes his betrayal, and then Edgardo is shown the contract and curses Lucia as the curtain falls.

Act 3 is general celebration at the marriage of Lucia and Arturo. Then, it's stunned silence at the news that she's murdered him. Arturo's body is carried in and set on a bier. Lucia follows with mad stares as she rhapsodizes that she and Edgardo are together again. It's restrained, she's happy, in a delirium. The ghost appears and it's raving madness, then back to smiling at Edgardo. Everyone is in stunned silence. She tenderly sings how heaven will smile on their bliss. Everyone shrinks from her. Enrico enters, enraged, and she imagines him as Edgardo and sings to him about her wicked brother. She throws a veil over herself and collapses in his arms.

Edgardo laments her happiness while he's in the arms of death. The Chorus tells him what has happened. The body is brought in, and he stabs himself and dies. This scene is devastation and destruction, unlike "The Liebestod" in "Tristan und Isolde" where she transcends to be with him. This is madness and murder.

"Lucia di Lammermoor" has one of the strongest casts to grace the Lobero stage. Christina Bouras is a scintillating Lucia. She's loving and fragile. She's one of those characters who's simply not meant for this world. She sings with ease and strength, and gets every bit of drama without ever overacting. Carlo Scibelli is outstanding as Edgardo. He's strong, smooth, and drips passion. Bojan Knezevic is a riveting Enrico. His voice is huge, rich, and smooth, and he's extraordinarily charismatic. He's the perfect villain, but not a moustache twirler. It's more like an overinflated view of himself, and he will do absolutely anything to advance his cause. Craig Hart's Raimondo holds him in check somewhat, but causes plenty of problems on his own. I'm always impressed with the tightness of the orchestra, given the amount of rehearsal time, and Valery Ryvkin does it again in "Lucia di Lammermoor" with Opera Santa Barbara at The Lobero Theater. There's one more performance, tomorrow, and if you haven't seen it yet, make every effort.

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