Emma Matthews has joined a distinguished list of Australian sopranos who have tested the limits of their vocal dexterity in capturing the coloratura hysterics of Lucia di Lammermoor.
This list includes prima donnas Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland.
For her efforts Ms Matthews received thunderous applause after the famous mad scene as she appeals to her absent lover, dressed in white and covered with blood. The singing is almost inhuman in its extraordinary range and tortured emotion.
The audience appreciation was also evident in the enthusiastic standing ovation for Matthews on Friday night when Lucia di Lammermoor opened at the Sydney Opera House.
This opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti – libretto by Salvatore Cammarano based on Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor – is usually more a hit with opera buffs than the general community. You don’t tend to walk out humming a well-known aria.
But the singing is exceptional, from Ms Matthews but also visiting US rising star James Valenti (her lover Edgardo).
And the chorus is exquisite, raising Donizetti’s music to wonderful heights.
In fact, under the direction of John Doyle all the cast members in this co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Teatro La Fenice, do their roles justice: Italian baritone Giorgio Cauduro (her brother Enrico), Jonathan Abernethy (Normanno, Enrico’s spy), Teresa La Rocca (Alisa, Lucia’s maid), Richard Anderson (the chaplain Raimondo) and Andrew Brunsdon (the poor unfortunate Laird of Bucklaw Arturo, who marries Lucia but is murdered on their wedding night).
They all need to because the entire opera rests on the quality of the singing and the music, masterfully conducted by Christian Badea.
The set is empty, the only props solid geometrical curtains that separate sections of the stage at various times, the occasional table (under which Lucia writhes in insane agony) and a chair here and there as needed.
Even the lights are subdued and play a minor role in creating the impenetrable mists of Scotland suggested by misty grey backdrops.
The period costumes pick up on this theme in black, greys and dark shades. Only Lucia provides the occasional spot of colour in subdued soft blues and greys until that final scene where she is pivotal in white and red.
This opera is all about the bel canto soprano and Emma Matthews delivers in spades: in the aria “Regnava nel silenzio” when Lucia first appears at the fountain describing the death of a young woman at the hands of her jealous lover, the water red with blood; at this same spot when she and Edgardo pledge their love in the duet “Verranno a te sull’aure”; and of course, in her tortured final cabaletta, “Spargi d’amaro pianto”.
Lucia di Lammermoor
Sydney Opera House
September 8 to November 2.
Melbourne from November 19.