Lucia di Lammermoor
Brenda Rae as Lucia. Photo by Ken Howard.

Lucia di Lammermoor

Brenda Rae and her male co-stars create a vocally stunning performance.

Santa Fe Opera
2017 Summer Season
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Brenda Rae, Lucia
Zachary Nelson, Enrico Ashton
Mario Chang, Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood,
Christian Van Horn, Raimondo Bidebent, a chaplain
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Conductor Corrado Rovaris
Director Ron Daniels
Scenic Design Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design Emily Rebholz

There were no kilts, the sunset was blocked by the set designer, and projections served as scenery, but the moment Brenda Rae opened her mouth, it was clear that this production of Lucia di Lammermoor was going to be memorable. Rae’s voice was crystaline, with a lightness that was a perfect counterpoint to the darkness of the plot. Along with the haunting sounds of the glass harmonica being played in the orchestra, which was employed to great effect in the mad scene, this was a musical showcase. There’s nothing like a little Donizetti to finish-off a summer evening tailgate picnic at Santa Fe opera.

Rae was in Santa Fe as Violetta in ‘La Traviata” in 2013, and has worked since then mostly in Germany, where, she said in a recent interview, directors tend to rein-in the dramatic freedoms of performers, and house productions are required to resemble each other with exactness. Here, especially during the mad scene, Rae was evidently given an opportunity to explore her character’s complicated tragic dimensions and combine it with vocal confidence that seems to have blossomed immeasurably since Traviata.

Although this is Lucia’s story, the men of the opera carry dramatic as well as vocal heft through the evening. Family dynamics, falling fortunes, and the need for a good marriage create the tensions here. Zachary Nelson, as the scheming brother, Enrico, as well as the other leading bass/baritone, Christian Van Horn, as the chaplain, offered male versions of bel canto singing that were at once technical, powerful, and clear, unaffected by covered tones or heavy vibrato. Both were dramatically present as actors and created beautiful sound throughout the evening. Tenor Mario Chang, as Edgardo, was perhaps less convincing acting as Lucia’s love, Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood, but his voice was strong enough to meet the standards being set by Rae, Nelson and Van Horn.

With an open-air setting, Santa Fe’s version of the Scottish castle, Ravenswood, the tower at Wolf’s crag and the grounds where the waters of a fountain turn to blood, all need to be minimally designed, based on the limitations of fly-space, wings and the square footage of the stage. Given these challenges, projections on a silvery-gray wall that wrapped around the stage (eliminating the fabulous view of the Jemez Mountains in the background) added texture; the costumes, by Emily Rebholz, included Civil War-era hoop skirts for women, and fur-heavy, dark and gloomy winter-wear for men. The set, by Riccardo Hernandez, included an impressive stair-case, upon which Lucia descended, somehow singing without looking down, in her blood-drenched nightgown, intruding upon the wedding party, which had suddenly turned into the movie “Carrie.” None of this was heavy-handed. Rae demonstrated madness that was touching, physicality that never went over-the-top, and as mentioned before, unforgettable beauty of tone and vocal tenderness.

Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for “Pasatiempo,” the Arts magazine of the “Santa Fe New Mexican.”