Lucia di Lammermoor – Mary Zimmerman’s Production is Still Tops

Two years ago I saw the MetHD performance of the Mary Zimmerman production of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Anna Netrebko in the title role. This was before I knew about SPLASH, but I was so impressed that I wrote about the opera afterwards just to express my own reactions.

2009 Anna Netrebko as Lucia and Mariusz Kwiecien as Enrico


Saturday March 12, 2011, I saw the same production but this time starring Natalie Dessay in the title role. I can’t think of a better way to start my review than to quote in full what I said in 2009, throwing in a few pictures of this year’s cast.


On our way out of the Theater at half past one Saturday March 7, 2009, I asked Sara a rhetorical question, “Would you like to have lived back then?”

How frightening to think of being a woman – a mere piece of property. But how – how appalling to think of being a man. To have an ego so supreme – and yet so fragile that it can’t stand the slightest hint of “dishonor”.

2011 Act I Joseph Calleja as Edgardo and Natalie Dessay as Lucia

Lucia doesn’t start out that way of course. In Act I it takes only a few notes to realize that Enrico is the villain of the piece and not much longer to cast Edgardo and Lucia as the hero and heroine. Since it is Grand Opera, you know it will have a tragic ending for them, but a small child-like part of you hopes that this-time-it-will-turn-out-differently-even-though-you-know-it-won’t.

2011 Act II Natalie Dessay as Lucia and Kwangchul Youn as Raimondo

In Act II the villain acts villainously, the heroine suffers beautifully, and the hero is mostly absent and only shows up 30 seconds too late. And that is when, in my not very humble opinion, Edgardo ceases to a hero and out-villainizes the villain.

Edgardo accuses Lucia.

He takes one look at the marriage contract and turns to the obviously distressed Lucia. Does he take her in his arms and say, “My darling. How could they make you do this? Did they waterboard you? I know you loved me too much to have signed this willingly.”? Not he. No, he shouts (excuse me, sings) “Did you sign this? Answer yes or no!” And when she sings a feeble “yes” he rips the rings from their fingers, throws her to the ground, and curses her.


A banal plot – nasty characters. Why do I get so involved in it? Why do I so look forward to seeing it again a week from Wednesday? The music. Ah, the music. And the acting. And the staging. And somehow, when everything comes together, the whole is so overwhelming that the components are no longer separable. It’s – – – OPERA.

The ghost of Lucia visits Edgardo

And one thing more that MetHD provides: the interviews. Many of the questions are routine, but every once in a while one learns something helpful. The producer, Mary Zimmerman, talked about ghosts. In Act I, Lucia sees a ghost of a long-ago woman who died for love. Zimmerman said that many directors treated this ghost as a figment of Lucia’s imagination and a precursor to her eventual madness, but that she visualized Lucia as completely sane until the tragic events forced her into madness. Therefore, the ghost was real (as real as any of the other characters). This belief led her to stage the most dramatic final scene of the opera that I have ever seen. Don’t miss it.

Ciao – – Philip


Natalie Dessay in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor with Joseph Calleja as Edgardo

Back in 2011. My reaction to seeing the opera again was basically unchanged, but it is considerable muted. Knowing exactly what was coming, I didn’t get indignant with Joseph Calleja’s Edgardo. He’s still a complete rotter in my book, but what can you expect – he’s a tenor – and a damn good one. But he better not fool around with any granddaughter of mine!

Natalie Dessay as Marie in Daughter of the Regiment

I fell in love with Natalie Dessay the first time I saw her, about 3 years ago in Daughter of the Regiment.

Natalie Dessay in title role of La Sonnambula; Photo by Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera

Seeing her a year later in the Met’s weird production of La Sonambula did nothing to change my mind, nor did her appearances as host or as interviewee at various MetHD productions. And as Lucia, Wow! It’s hard to imagine two roles more different than Marie and Lucia, but she played and sang the demented Scottish lassie to perfection.

Lucia in Act III

RenÉe Fleming’s interview with her was fascinating. She said she liked doing both comedy and tragedy – comedy was more fun, but tragedy was easier. “In tragedy I can lose myself in the role and then act naturally. Each performance may be a little different. Comedy is harder because one interacts more with other people and the timing must be precise.”

The interview with Ludovic TÉzier who played the obviously evil Enrico was also fascinating. Most singers when asked how they like playing a villain say that they love the opportunity to be, for a couple of hours, someone entirely different from their real self. Apparently this was not true with TÉzier. He seemed to have a problem keeping his stage and real-life personas entirely separate; anyhow he looked for excuses and came up with a theory that insanity ran in the family and that Enrico was not entirely sane and hence not really responsible for the terrible way he treated his sister. Interesting. Whatever his analysis, he played and sang a very convincing villain.

Lucia in Act III

All in all, a performance well worth seeing again – which I plan to do at the Encore at 6:30 local time on Wednesday, April 6.

The Opera Nut

Except as noted, all photos are by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on March 27, 2011.

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