For the first time ever at Opera Queensland, the conductor drew more attention than the singers. Sustained applause greeted his arrival in the pit; as the lights dimmed, people leaned forward and even stood to catch a glimpse of the venerable grey-haired figure.
Even without Joan Sutherland at his side, Richard Bonynge, 76, draws a crowd, particularly at a performance of the opera which more than any other made Bonynge and Sutherland international celebrities.
It is fitting that Lucia di Lammermoor has at last come to Brisbane, and Opera Queensland should be rightly proud of a tremendous production to conclude its 25th year.
This is the well-established Opera Australia version (it’s a year older than OQ itself) created by John Copley and directed here by John Wregg. It is traditional and grand. Fabulous sets feature massive pillars and twisting stairs. The costumes are sumptuous, with the characters who people the vast stage seeming to have leapt from a Highlands picture book. They are well directed and choreographed. Essentially Donizetti’s take on Walter Scott’s novel is a melodrama, but the production and performances give it real life and emotion. The music is gorgeous, with arias and duets which are overwhelming in their quality when performed at this standard.
Principals and chorus combine with the Queensland Orchestra to present a richly textured and beautifully harmonious production. The chorus has been well drilled by their old master James Christiansen, brought from retirement after the untimely death of chorus master John Dingle, to whom OQ has dedicated this production.
Of the male principals, baritone Michael Lewis as Lucia’s wicked brother Enrico is consistently of top quality. With a strong and rich sound, he asserts his vocal and physical presence from the first moments. Julian Gavin as Lucia’s lover Edgardo has a beautiful and versatile tenor voice. A few wavery moments in his opening night first scene were more than compensated for by his soaring singing in the wedding scene, when as jilted lover he storms into the festivities. Bruce Martin as Lucia’s chaplain Raimondo is a commanding figure with a strong and dark sound, although with occasional woolliness. Bernard Hull as officer Normanno, Rosina Waugh as maid Lucia and Michael Martin as hapless bridegroom Arturo all round out the well-chosen group of principals with classy singing.
And so to the key character: Russian-born soprano Elvira Fatykhova (now with Ankara Opera) is wonderful Lucia, her superb performance in this highly demanding role relished by the audience. Her singing is spot on, pure and lyrical, while her acting is perfect. She carries off the great mad scene with passion and conviction, acting and singing her heart out. The famous extended ‘duet’ with the flute is thrilling and very moving.
Bonynge has inspired a great performance from the Queensland Orchestra. There were perhaps some balance problems in the early part of the mad scene, with Lucia at one point in danger of being drowned by the instrumentalists, but in all, the delicate balance between players and singers is exemplary. The rich orchestration provides a satisfying mixture of instrumental delights. In the climactic moments of the opera, flautist Patrick Nolan rises admirably to the occasion ending, like this production and OQ’s anniversary season, on a splendid note.