Diana Damrau in Katie Mitchell’s production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor'. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Diana Damrau in Katie Mitchell’s production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor'. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey © Stephen Cummiskey

Time was when sopranos singing Lucia would hit their top E flats, collect the fee and go home. Whatever would they say of what Diana Damrau has to go through in this production? Given the warnings the Royal Opera put out in advance, maybe the management was worried the audience would faint, too.

Donizetti’s opera used to be the playground of great voices — Patti and Rubini, Melba and Sutherland, Caballé and Pavarotti, all sang it at Covent Garden. Sadly, those are no more. In their place what we get is a Lucia di Lammermoor for our times, a revisionist drama of sexual politics that would have left Donizetti open-mouthed.

The advisory note issued over Katie Mitchell’s new production did not prevent some lusty booing at the end. In essence, Mitchell shows us on stage personal traumas that a self-respecting woman in the early 19th century was meant to keep to herself. It is a messy, bloody list — nocturnal sex trysts, a knife murder, a miscarriage, a suicide in the bath. Do not say you were not warned.

In all this Damrau is brilliantly convincing. Her rebellious Lucia is a woman of modern attitudes stuck in a still feudal Victorian world. Not only that, it is a world almost exclusively of men. Even the women of the chorus have grown moustaches, wear suits and play billiards. Damrau’s soprano has been getting shrill of late, but she holds back the volume, doing her best to vary the sound and create singing of inner intensity. Every coloratura phrase is pitched to sear the soul.

Charles Castronovo was a good choice for Edgardo in this production and survives his sex scene romping among the gravestones with only a few titters from the audience. Ludovic Tézier sounds at the peak of his vocal powers as Enrico and Kwangchul Youn is a stentorian Raimondo. Taylor Stanton’s prolonged death scene as Arturo — part comic, part gruesome — is pure Hitchcock. Daniel Oren conducts clumsily. Though cramped on stage and fussily over-directed, Mitchell’s production ends with an undeniable emotional impact. There is just one problem. How many other sopranos are out there ready to follow in Damrau’s footsteps?

To May 19, roh.org.uk

Letter in response to this article

My sympathies were all with the ROH’s Lucia / From Peter Kent

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