22 April 2016

Victorian Opera: Two men will die tonight

Victorian Opera
Lucia di Lammermore
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Tuesday 19 April 2016

A couple of thousand people came to a complete halt; nobody shuffled, nobody coughed, nobody unwrapped lollies. Nobody, except a few people on stage, moved. On stage, the movement was from Lucia’s friends – worried, uncertain what to do, while Jessica Pratt aka Lucia slowly and gut-wrenchingly went mad. Essentially, Richard Mills and Orchestra Victoria were superb, too. More than superb really, because they played in a pit that sounded like playing under melted lead. It took all the skill of Dr Mills and the pit orchestra to produce a sound that didn’t decay in 2 microseconds or less, to give the singer first-class support. Including the glass harmonica's beautiful, ethereal, unworldly sound was a brilliant idea (but the player is uncredited). Why OV-Richard and Jessica didn’t get a long, standing ovation at the end of the act is a mystery. Theirs was a most beautiful singing-accompanying performance: Jessica and Richard in each other’s head.

Jessica had all the promo resources; she had the lead part, she was the local girl come home again from La Scala and she had the stunning, magical, world-class voice. We knew that from her Traviata last year. She alone was going to be worth the price of the ticket  and so she was.

There were two other local singers on stage who didn’t quite qualify for photo opps in a white, blood-drenched dress. Some blokes would-of but not these two: they'd been Victorian Opera Developing Artists; they were graduates of the Vic Opera/MU Master of Music program. I’ve followed their development and their careers from ‘good-singer’ to’ superlative-opera-star-level-two (shared dressing room)’. That’s what they were on Tuesday.

Michael Petruccelli is a Schubert lieder wunderkind; so in some ways, inevitably, that was seen in Arturo. It seemed that Michael's singing was grounded in his lieder experience – emotional, expressive, richly lyrical. It was all there in the score and Michael found it. Not over-dramatic, not suicidal, just beautiful singing and being a total shit – chatting up pretty birds – ignoring his wife who was enveloped in emotional turmoil, barely able to see the parchment through tears while she signed the marriage certificate without him by her side. From the soles of his white boots to the top of his white feathered hat Michael was a loathsome figure. The surprise is not that she stabbed him; it was that she didn’t stab him sooner. If he’d sung more of his opening aria to her he’d have won her and the tragedy that was Lucia would not have happened.

Michael Petrucceli
Source: http://www.michaelpetruccelli.com/

That was not a possibility for Edgardo. He was inevitably doomed from the moment the curtain went up. Carlos E. B├írcenas was brilliantly cast – a skill that Richard Mills is recognised for. Carlos was suited physically, vocally and as an actor to the part of the fatally hopeless lover.

Carlos had worked on Lucia with Jessica in Italy over Christmas so they understood each other totally and credibly. Like Lucia 45 minutes before, he slowly went mad: a Mad Scene without the white dress. His performance in the last act suffered from some pretty awful direction. Half out of his mind with anxiety he begged information about his beloved from a courtier (so far so good) tapping him on the shoulder (credibility = zero). 

Carlos had an horrendous part: alone, grief-stricken that Lucia’d broken her vow to him, hearing the wedding celebration over in the castle, he had to slowly (that was the tricky bit) lose the will to live without his love and then find the courage to stab himself. And who sought to comfort him, to prevent him? Nobody. He was despised, rejected of men. Alone, surrounded by courtiers, he stabs and dies – a truly tragic figure in the best model of Romantic opera.

Carlos E B├írcenas

There’s a risk on casting unknowns such as Michael and Carlos: they don’t attract the press and therefore the crowds. But they weren’t unknown. They are graduates of the best opera school in the world. They had been worked in all aspects of opera till they dropped. They’d come out of the Master of Music program with star quality. They just has to wait until the firmament came along. And it did in the superb (if you ignore the directing) Victorian Opera production of Lucia.

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