Review: Opera Saratoga conquers demanding Donizetti masterpiece

Opera Saratoga presented Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” its second production of the season, Thu

Opera Saratoga presented Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” its second production of the season, Thursday night at the Spa Little Theatre. Although the singing was superb, the almost three-hour show isn’t one that flows along effortlessly.

Based on Salvadore Cammarano’s tragic and darkly dramatic libretto, the production includes numerous scene changes that force the action to stop while figures dressed in black push stairs around and add urns, statuary or other fixtures to make the space a park, a bedroom or a castle’s main hall. This in itself was interesting for the large crowd to watch, oftentimes with much amusement. One wonders what Donizetti must have been thinking in 1835 to make these kinds of demands.

Fortunately, set designer Martin Lopez has a clever way with blocks and lighting designer Jeff Bruckerhoff brought some naturalness to the view. Alan Michael Smith’s costumes were equally grand in rich browns, wines and black. Director Joseph Bascetta provided solid blocking, especially for the crowd scenes. They looked like oil paintings.

How the singers — who were all elegantly matched and sang with big voices that blended beautifully — managed to find a flow in all this just goes to show how versatile they were. As the headliner, soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine roared through her numerous coloratura lines and cadenzas in the famous mad scene with great brilliance. Her voice seemed to get bigger as she went up. Maybe it was just her control. There was an ease and naturalness to her projection that belied the virtuosic demands. The crowd was fully appreciative of her talents.

As her brother Enrico, baritone Corey McKern has a wonderfully rich voice with a deep-throated resonance that filled the room. He was focused and intense in his acting.

Tenor Norman Shankle, as Lucia’s love, Edgardo, sang with smooth, fluid lines. His acting was a bit stiff, but he got more involved as his scenes went on.

What was especially impressive was how well the apprentice artists — tenors Jeremy Fisher and Jon Lee Keenan and mezzo-soprano Laura Begley — sounded in their smaller roles. The quality of their voices, the line and their projection easily matched the caliber of the principal voices. The male and female choruses were also very adept.

After a slow start, the orchestra under Joseph Mechavich settled in and provided strong support. Only now and then did the volume overwhelm. The harpist and flutist were also featured to provide solid color.

Additional performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and July 5; and 2 p.m. Tuesday and July 7.

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