In review: Lucia di Lammermoor at Opera By Request
Last night I went to see Lucia di Lammermoor with Opera By Request. It was one of those nights I often have in Toronto, where a good chunk of the cast is made up of friends and colleagues, and my curiosity was piqued to hear some of these young singers in their Lucia roles. OBR does their shows in concert, and Lucia is a great piece to put up in this kind of setting; the music stands on its own, after all. In some ways, bel canto is better in concert; the whole point is to show off some great singing, and clearing away sets and costumes pulls the focus right to the music.
Opera By Request is one of those places where you can go and hear the true up and coming talent in Toronto; it's no small thing, this Toronto talent, and it's a great thing to see solid singing coming from outside companies like the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier. In the title role, soprano Allison Cecilia Arends had liquid-like coloratura, and plenty of different colours in her voice. She has a stronger sound than you might imagine when you think of a Lucia, but I liked her metallic quality and the bit of heft in her sound. She had beautiful moments of soft singing as well, and really warm low register. I think Lucia is a new role for Allison, and it's a good one. She did that endless version of the Mad Scene cadenza with flautist Vicki Blechta, and she definitely had some chops to show off. I think once it settles in a bit more, she'll start to take more time with the role; there were a few moments, both dramatically and musically that felt a bit rushed to me, and with a role like Lucia, it takes a couple of of cracks to find all the room that's written in.
As Enrico, Lucia's bossy brother, baritone Michael Robert-Broder was in his element. I haven't heard him in a role like this before, and it was a great fit. Michael's sound is big and broad, and he sang rolling legato phrases all through his first aria (did I mention they did Lucia sans-cuts?). I especially like him as a villain-type; he has a slight tendency to let his voice get wild, and I loved it in the context of the selfish brother, sacrificing his poor little sister for some new family wealth. Michael always surprises me with his combination of power and agility; I have a feeling that he's a real budding Verdi-baritone, and Enrico is an exciting step in that direction.
As Edgardo, Lucia's lover, tenor Paul Williamson was a pleasant surprise; I haven't heard Paul sing since we were both at OperaNUOVA several years back. Some of the most difficult music in Lucia is written for Edgardo, and Paul tackled it with smarts and soul. Despite a few moments where I felt he was holding his voice back slightly, Paul racked up quite the list of vocal feats over the course of the night. He sang impossibly long phrases, the kind that make you take a vicarious deep breath with the singer when they finally come up (or down) for air. He sang the freaking E-flat in the duet with Lucia, the one that's usually switched with Lucia's part, so at least the soprano is singing the E-flat and the tenor is "only" singing a high C (that, or the E-flat is re-written entirely). And I'll be damned if he didn't give us a high D at the very end of the piece (that's right, at the end of his last scene). Even with his relentless high notes, Paul was a sensitive singer who wasn't afraid to take risks. My hat goes off to any tenor who takes on Edgardo. Mental, that tenor bel canto.
I know this sounds weird, but I got really excited over the Raimondo, sung by bass-baritone Nathan Keoughan. I've heard Nathan sing a bit over the last few years, most recently as Angelotti in Highlands Opera Studio's production of Tosca this summer. Angelotti is a weird role to sing, but I heard some really exciting things in Nathan's voice, and I was excited to hear him sing a role that would really feature his voice. Sure enough, he sounded awesome. He has a reedy, almost throaty quality to his voice that I love; he bordered on shouting at times, and I frankly loved it. He had a beautiful evenness across his range, with gorgeous, virile sounds in the bottom and tons of power on the top. His voice seems to be moving higher, and I approve wholeheartedly. The smaller roles of Alisa, Normanno and Arturo were sung respectively by Jillian Yemen and Joseph Angelo, and they even doubled up on a few chorus parts as well. Jillian had a gorgeous sound, really full and rich; I hadn't heard her before, but I'd like to hear her more. Joseph was busy with two roles and plenty of tenor chorus parts; I liked him best as Arturo, Lucia's rich groom-to-be. I'd like to hear him in other stuff that's less chatty and more sing-y, where he can settle into making sound, rather than tackling the wordy sections of music written for Normanno, or the ensemble-based chorus singing.
Like I said, I think Lucia di Lammermoor is a great piece to choose for an in-concert setting. I thought that there could have been a few judicious musical cuts, like a couple of the recits and transitional scenes; I agree that these scenes serve to advance the plot, but without specific action onstage, these in-between bits slow down an evening that should be about showing the real stuff of the music in Lucia.
Click here to check out what's coming up next from Opera By Request. Music Director and pianist William Shookhoff has a great concept and environment for young singers to sing a new role in an opera of their choosing. Under those circumstances, you'll hear the real deal in rising Canadian talent, I promise you.