Dessay, Calleja Dazzle in Met ‘Lucia’

Patrick Summers
Associated Press

By Mike Silverman

Natalie Dessay and Joseph Calleja triumph as the ill-fated operatic lovers of ‘Lucia’

There was much anticipation, and some worry, over the return of Natalie Dessay to the Metropolitan Opera as the deranged heroine of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

The diminutive French soprano had created a sensation in the role on opening night of the 2007-08 season, but vocal problems that have plagued her on and off for much of her career had flared up again recently. Last season, she had canceled her only scheduled Met appearances, as Ophelia in Thomas' "Hamlet."

On Thursday night she quickly put any concerns to rest. From the moment she made her first entrance in the woods near Lammermoor Castle, Dessay sang out with secure, bell-like tones and her trademark intense expressiveness. True, the notes at the very top of the role, above high C, seem to cause increasing effort, but there's compensation in a warmer sound in her middle and lower registers.

Most important, she conveyed the fragile innocence and increasing desperation of a young woman forced by her brother to give up her true love, the rival clansman Edgardo, and marry a nobleman to save the family fortunes.

Lucia's famous Mad Scene, sung in a bloodstained wedding dress after she kills her bridegroom on their wedding night, was again a lesson in the art of a superb singing actress. Other coloraturas have set off more vocal fireworks, but few have deployed the runs, trills and other embellishments so effectively as an extension of an unhinged mind.

Dessay wasn't the only performer worth cheering in this "Lucia." Tenor Joseph Calleja, in his third leading role at the Met this season, sang an Edgardo of exceptional elegance.

In their Act 1 love duet, his honeyed tones blended beautifully with Dessay's leaner sound. When he burst into the wedding scene to denounce Lucia for betraying him, his singing was anguished without ever turning strident. And Calleja was at his best in the final scene, when Edgardo pours out his grief in a heartbreaking two-part aria, before stabbing himself so he can join Lucia in death. This was golden age vocalism, pure and simple.

As Lucia's duplicitous brother, Enrico, baritone Ludovic Tezier made a vigorous impression, his penetrating sound cresting nicely over orchestra and chorus as he oozed with barely suppressed rage. Bass Kwangchul Youn sang with mellow tone as the chaplain, Raimondo, while in the brief role of the hapless bridegroom, Arturo, tenor Matthew Plenk displayed a voice of sweetness and flexibility.

The Mary Zimmerman production, with sets by Daniel Ostling that nicely evoked the Scottish countryside, remains by far the best of the three she has done for the Met.

Some controversial but effective touches remain. A ghost dressed in white wanders through the woods during Lucia's first aria, in which she describes seeing just such a phantom. Then during the final scene, Lucia's ghost appears to Edgardo, urging him to suicide. And during the famous Sextet, a photographer assembles the wedding party and guests to pose for a picture, while Edgardo stands apart from them, the classic party-crasher and outsider.

The Met orchestra was in good form for conductor Patrick Summers, who gave an energetic, well-balanced reading of the score.

There are six more performances. The final one, on Saturday afternoon, March 19, will be broadcast live in HD to movie theaters around the world.