Method admirable... but not enough madness
Lucia di Lammermoor
City Hall Concert Hall
Created in 1835, Gaetano Donizetti's bel canto operatic masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor is loosely based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, itself drawn from a tragic real-life incident in 17th-century Scotland.
This is the third year in a row that Lo King-man and his Viva Musica group have presented one of the Italian composer's works as their annual stage production. However, this year sees a departure from the sunny comedy of La Fille du Regiment in 2010 and L'Elisir d'Amore in 2011.
Lucia and Edgardo fall in love despite their families being locked in a bitter feud. They exchange vows to marry but Lucia's brother Enrico forces her to marry the wealthy Arturo, whose political support he needs.
Edgardo bursts in upon the wedding and, believing Lucia has betrayed him, curses her. The broken-hearted Lucia subsequently goes mad, kills Arturo and dies herself. When Edgardo finds out, he kills himself so they can be united in heaven.
The title role is one of the supreme challenges of the coloratura soprano repertoire, identified with such greats as Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. Slightly tentative at first, young Korean singer Sang-Eun Lee came into her own magnificently in act three. This was true bel canto singing with impeccable phrasing, pitch and tone. The big high notes were impressive and the cadenza where the soprano duets with a flute was exquisite.
Lee does not quite capture Lucia's underlying madness and fear, but is expressive and appealing and should become an exceptional artist.
The opera's melodramatic plot is elevated to tragedy by the beauty and emotion of Donizetti's music. However, it can easily tip over into the absurd if production or performances are not top-notch, and it must be said that Lo does not entirely pull this off.
Edgardo's death scene was inadvertently more comic than tragic and, while allowance must be made for limited resources, there is no excuse for such ill-judged costumes - any Scots present must have been shuddering at the abuse of the kilt. Also, although the City Hall Concert Hall has good acoustics, the small stage, poor sightlines and lack of an orchestra pit are handicaps for opera.
Happily, the production built pace and power as it went on and the renowned act two sextet was stirring. Lio Kuok-man did a fine job conducting the Hong Kong Virtuosi and there was good work from the Opera Society of Hong Kong Chorus.
Among the supporting cast, Freddie Tong was outstanding as the priest, Raimondo, and Alex Tam made something of Arturo despite being dressed in a jacket more apt for Las Vegas than Lammermoor.