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Katie Mitchell directs Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Lucia di Lammermoor (DVD)
Diana Damrau, Charles Castronovo, Ludovic Tézier, Taylor Stayton, Kwangchul Youn, Rachael Lloyd, Peter Hoare; Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Daniel Oren; dir. Katie Mitchell (London, 2016)
Warner Classics DVD: 9029579205; Blu-ray: 9029579202

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Katie Mitchell’s ‘split-screen’ production of Lucia di Lammermoor opened to mixed reviews in 2016: some focusing on the drip of the plumbing in Vicki Mortimer’s scrupulous reconstruction of a Victorian bathroom; some on over-crowding issues in the grand set pieces for chorus and principals; some on the intrusive manifestations of the ghosts of the Lammermuir girl and Lucia’s mother. The staging is over-stuffed but it is not stupid or careless. Though Mitchell’s heroine is modern in her sexual and intellectual appetites, she must bow to the 19th-century values of the plot. Instead of murdering her bridegroom in a frenzy of hysteria, she seduces, stabs and smothers him with the aid of her maid, Alisa, before suffering a miscarriage.

Cuts theatrical and musical were made before the recent revival, adding unusual value to Margaret Williams’s thoughtfully filmed recording of the original run. Here we can see at close range the thoroughness with which Diana Damrau (Lucia), Charles Castronovo (Edgardo) embraced Mitchell’s ideas, and can hear precisely the extraordinary musicality of Philipp Marguerre’s interpretation of the glass harmonica obbligato in ‘Il dolce suono’. The gap between the audience and the performers is closed on screen, and Daniel Oren’s conducting seems less pedestrian than singer-sensitive. The sound quality is excellent. Minute alterations in the textures of Donizetti’s orchestration are brilliantly clear. Were you not already persuaded that the opera is a masterpiece, this should change your mind.

Shot from the stalls, from above, and in close up, Damrau is magnificent. Her attention to the text is unerring and her pianissimos beautifully spun. Castronovo burns at a slower rate, reserving his vocal and poetic energies for a heartrending ‘Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali’. As Enrico, Ludovic Tézier sings with steely legato, while Rachael Lloyd’s portrayal of Alisa, Lucia’s constant companion, is outstanding.

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Anna Picard