Lucia di Lammermoor

Lyubov Petrova powers this Lucia with vocal fireworks and nuanced acting

Nice day for a red wedding: Lyubov Petrova as Lucia
Nice day for a red wedding: Lyubov Petrova as Lucia (Photo courtesy of Austin Lyric Opera)

Lucia di Lammermoor

Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Through Feb. 5
Running time: 3 hr.

In last week's Arts section, I spoke with Next to Normal's Meredith McCall and Lucia di Lammermoor's Lyubov Petrova about how each made interpretive decisions playing women with mental problems in light of their respective productions' musical scores. Each intriguing insight they provided further piqued my interest to observe their interpretive work onstage. I'm looking forward to seeing McCall this month during her Zach Theatre run and had the pleasure of catching Petrova in action last weekend as the title role in the Austin Lyric Opera production of Donizetti's tragic tale.

With its premise somewhat adapted from a novel by Walter Scott, Lucia unfolds in Scotland during the Glorious Revolution of the late 17th century. In a plot brimming with overtones of Romeo and Juliet, Protestant Lucia had fallen deeply – one might say madly, even – in love with Edgardo, her brother's Catholic enemy. Deception ensues, and Lucia is forced to marry Lord Arturo. The nuptials don't last long, though; just minutes after their wedding ceremony, Lucia returns to her own reception with dagger in hand, Arturo's blood spattered across her gown. She's killed him in an onset of insanity, and the "mad scene" that ensues is likely the most famed of the operatic canon.

When Petrova and I discussed her interpretation of this incredibly complex and challenging scene, she observed that "the most interesting twist in the story is that only in that madness does [Lucia] find her happiness." Indeed, it was the intense palpability of this sentiment in Petrova's performance of "Il dolce suono" that brought the aria to life in such a riveting way. The Russian soprano's vocal abilities are technically superb (one could hear various iterations of whispered "wows" among audience members throughout the evening as she executed especially impressive arpeggiated passages and messa di voce inflections). But what lies behind Petrova's vocal fireworks is perhaps even more impressive: her nuanced attention to how each choice she makes furthers the arc of her role. Action (as in the driving force behind "acting") is not always the first aspect of an operatic performance to spring to mind. Yet Petrova is able to couple the best of both worlds: a keen sense of her character's objectives and tactics alongside the technical rigor to connect these actions to the complicated vocal passages Donizetti has laid before her.

Though perhaps not as engaging on the whole as ALO's season opener, The Magic Flute, this Lucia is carried admirably by Petrova, ensuring that the production's riveting moments are strung together in ways that lead to an ultimately satisfying experience by the time the grand drape falls. She exemplifies the concept of the "title role": that MVP who, when all is said and done, is ultimately responsible for shouldering the burden of the work and shepherding her company to a successful result. And she does it all with nearly maddening precision.

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Lucia di Lammermoor, Austin Lyric Opera, Lyubov Petrova, Meredith McCall

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