OPERA REVIEW : San Diego Opera Opens ‘Lucia’

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Times Music Writer

New to San Diego Opera, and now refurbished with a new rake, new lighting and a different wardrobe, Neil Peter Jampolis’ Tulsa Opera production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” has an aura of Scottish brooding and Italian melancholy, exactly the mix one expects in Donizetti’s most popular operatic tragedy.

And it has the sensitive touch of a probing operatic mind--that of stage director Rhoda Levine.

The musical performance at the opening night of the San Diego season--for 1988-89, no fall offerings precede the spring series now beginning--did not invariably match the visual success.


Still, a singing cast of talented North American singers, led stylishly by the Italian conductor Edoardo Muller, on Saturday night gave a respectable, pleasing account of the familiar score in Civic Theatre. Only a spoilsport with a long memory would invoke the wondrous 1974 San Diego performances, in this very hall, by Joan Sutherland, Richard Bonynge, et al. Never mind. That was then, and this is, well, 1989.

Besides Levine’s comprehensible, less-is-more stage direction, Jampolis’ stylized, intimate and atmospherically lit sets, and Muller’s well-balanced, sensibly paced reading--only occasionally compromised in singer-indulgent moments--the strongest element here was the performance of Richard Leech as Edgardo.

The American tenor makes an Italian sound, a full, rich, resonant tone, capable of louds and softs and color-detailing, and makes it consistently. Further, he sings--but almost never oversings--with ardor, clarity of word and a genuine sense of musical drama. He gave a full-out but never melodramatic performance on Saturday, yet meshed with his colleagues in a histrionic and musical way.

Equally gifted but not yet completely accomplished, Gail Dobish showed much of the right stuff as a Donizetti heroine of solid and bankable high notes, a strong and lustrous voice, and some stage savvy. But her Lucia is flawed. In her voice, the first octave emerges breathy and inarticulate, and technical weaknesses limit her vocal freedom and flexibility--this is a Lucia without a trill, for instance. Worse, in her performance, intonation can be wildly erratic. Indeed, there are moments when she hits a note squarely off-center.

The good news is Dobish’s real promise, the quality of the vocal instrument and the apparently good stage instincts that, with help from director Levine, seemed here to guide her acting. Still, much integrating, and much growth, remain to be achieved.

The rest of the cast held to a solid provincial standard. When he was not oversinging, which was most of the time, J. Patrick Raftery made admirable baritonal sounds as a stock and overstated Enrico; his acting also regularly eschewed subtlety.


Kevin Langan’s sympathetic Raimondo produced the expected sonorousness one has come to expect of him, but failed to delineate words and meaning as tellingly as some of his performances. As Lucia’s companion, Alisa, Suzanna Guzman made the most of her opportunities. Two new tenors, Martin Chambers as Normanno and Paul Austin Kelly as Lord Arturo Bucklaw, impressed as promising.

The opening-night performance was informed by the supertitle system known as OperaTextSM.

Subsequent performances are scheduled Tuesday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoon, all in Civic Theatre.