A radically contemporary version of Lucia de Lammermoor, one of the most performed operas in Gaetano Donizetti’s repertoire, triumphed this Saturday at its premiere at the MET Opera in New York, where the audience gave it several final minutes of applause, and mainly to the Latin protagonist, Nadine Sierra, who had a portentous performance.
Instead of the Scottish highlands in which the original plot of the opera takes place (premiered in 1835), the stage manager Simon Stone imagined a setting of right now in an anonymous place in the American Midwest, in which the characters interact with Facebook conversations, take selfies and send endless messages with their cell phones.
The tragedy with which the play ends is chewed from the beginning in that town hit by the depression and full of all the details that populate the imaginary of the faded American dream: a cheap motel, the drive-in movie theater, a pawn shop, a small church, an abandoned swing and a 24-hour pharmacy where the inhabitants procure all kinds of legal drugs.
Lucia (Nadine Sierra), in fact, is not the victim of a simple madness of love -so abundant in 19th century operas-, but is hooked on Oxycontin, the powerful opioid that has created millions of addicts in the United States and that causes him to have hallucinations in which he mistakes the living for the dead.
Nadine Sierra said that her performance in this opera – which she has already performed at least six times in other versions – was a challenge for her not only because of the “radicality” of its staging, but also because it required her to deploy, beyond of her technical skills, some qualities of an actress to paint a believable character with whom the public has to identify.
And compared to the period costumes to which she is most accustomed on stage, the soprano appeared today dressed in holey jeans and leggings, as well as long earrings in her ears, while her lover Edgardo (Mexican Javier Camarena , also very applauded) is dressed in sweatshirts and baggy pants in the style of any young man.
Edgardo works in a fast food franchise with few clients, but in order to marry Lucia he needs more money and enlists in the army, where he is sent to a nameless war in which his country is embarked, and when he returns by surprise – still dressed in his military uniform- he finds that Lucia is celebrating her imposed wedding with a man chosen by her family.
There begins a tragedy where several people die and that represents the refusal of a woman to submit to the destiny imposed by her family and her society, a more contemporary theme than ever.
But what the public applauded most fervently was, in addition to Stone’s contemporary proposal, the wide range of registers that the soprano Sierra was able to extract from the character of Lucia, with enormous nuances and that are revealed above all in the aria of “Il dulce suono” , of great complexity and that the 33-year-old soprano proved to master perfectly.
And although the squalor of the stage, the injustice in which Lucia lives and the tragedy with which the work ends do not invite optimism, there are nevertheless moments of great beauty thanks above all to Donizetti’s music. For Sierra, it is mainly because it is a very human work, because “being human is not only innocence and beauty, but also the essential, the dirty and the sexual.”
And the public seemed to understand it the same way.