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Gory Glory á Lucia: Reviewing 'Lucia de Lammermoor' at Royal Opera House


Returning for its second revival at Covent Garden, Katie Mitchell’s infamous production of Lucia di Lammermoor has lost some of its shock-value, but it continues to add poignancy and insight, as well as blood and gore, to Donizetti’s gothic heroine, and to point towards further nuances which could be brought out of this complex and tragic tale.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell.

Mitchell’s production gained notoriety at its premiere in 2016 for its bifurcated staging, which sharpens the focus on Lucia’s character and motivations, and brings to the stage grisly details of the plot which the original libretto hides from view. Toned down slightly from its divisive original form, the production avoided the booing of its initial reception, and was instead met with audible hums of approval, at least from those around me. There were even nervous chuckles at the comical seduction and blindfolding of Arturo before his murder, a moment of uncomfortable humour complemented the stylised gothic scenery, and added to the sense of uncanny, surreal horror.

Mitchell’s split stage creates more than comedic dramatic irony, however; it also provides a poignant representation of the putative distinction between public and private spheres, and their actual entanglement in the context of sexual and familial politics. The public sphere seems almost entirely populated by men, most often in crowds; the entire chorus wears masculine attire, as do Lucia and her maid Alisa when they briefly enter the crypt to consort with her lover Edgardo.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell.

Lucia wields little influence here beyond her collected attempt in Act I to dissipate the brewing conflict between her lover and her brother, who are both vengefully driven by the longstanding feud between their families and by desperation at the resulting precariousness of their social and economic status. Edgardo, in Xabier Anduaga’s forceful tenor, verges on drowning her out in their Act I duet, and tempers his desire for revenge only too late, when, in a tender falsetto, he resolves to take his own life beside her. Only in her madness does Lucia find an audience, half-voyeuristic, half-pitying, in masculine society. Nadine Sierra’s coloratura was not only penetrating, but as visceral as the fake blood soaking her costume, intermingled with guttural gasps and groans.

Family politics, underpinned by patriarchal and aristocratic values, continually intrude – like the ghosts which haunt the Ravenswood estate – into the apartments to which Lucia is otherwise confined. Her brother and his posse burst in on the half-dressed heroine in her bedroom and bathroom, and witness even the most poignant and private moment of her miscarriage, underlining the extent of the political contestation of this woman’s personal and bodily choices. It is this constant invasion of her space – her lack of the power of self-determination made visible – which gives Mitchell’s Lucia the motivation for her murderous madness, more so than the interpolation of the miscarriage itself, which follows the murder slightly clunkily.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell.

The split staging is the production’s weakness as well as its strength. The two scenes do not always seem to line up with the greatest possible impact, and sometimes there is too much going on onstage to take in. I often found myself watching those singing while the more interesting action was taking place on the silent part of the stage. The greater visibility accorded to Lucia in Mitchell’s production, combined with the vocal extremity of her mad scene, not only serves to highlight her ultimate silence but also inculpates us in her fate, as we choose, like the men around her, who we direct our attention to.

That said, this is a plot with many possible focal points. While Lucia’s character is certainly developed and humanised beyond the libretto, the production does little to illuminate the motivations of some of the other characters, particularly Alisa and Arturo (who doesn’t really show enough personality to deserve his brutal death). A more thorough feminist critique of the gender and class structures at play on the Ravenswood estate might introduce yet more nuance into the production's examination of the complex circumstances and societal pressures which motivate the actions of almost every character in the opera.

Lucia di Lammermoor runs at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until May 18th 2024.


Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.


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