EmptyMetropolitan Opera, New York (Through March 13)
If you've strolled around Manhattan in recent months, you've no doubt seen the ubiquitous bus stop ads promoting the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," starring the renowned French soprano Natalie Dessay. The startling visuals, depicting the title character in all her mad-eyed glory, are well representative of this arresting new production staged by theater veteran Mary Zimmerman ("Metamorphoses").
The 1835 work, adapted from a novel by Sir Walter Scott, contains the most famous mad scene in opera history, depicting the aftermath of Lucia's murder of the unwanted husband forced upon her by her manipulative brother Enrico (Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien). Dessay, known for her thespian leanings, delivers a bravura performance in that scene, adding a high-pitched scream and an impressive tumble down a long staircase along the way.
Zimmerman has updated the action to the mid-19th century, adding a gothic flavor that is enhanced by Daniel Ostling's striking set design. She has imposed little directorial meddling in the production, providing a stark but effective staging that wonderfully showcases her star's bravura turn. The few innovations that she has provided, like having the characters posing for a group photograph at the fateful wedding, feel resourceful rather than extraneous.
Dessay, whose vocal intensity, waiflike physicality and huge eyes make clear why she's long been compared to such singers as Callas and Piaf, displays little evidence of the vocal troubles that have plagued her in recent years. Her singing here is consistently mesmerizing, vividly conveying her doomed character's fragility.
She's well supported by the other singers, especially Marcello Giordani as Lucia's lover, Edgardo. Although occasionally lapsing into bombast, this exciting Italian tenor demonstrated why his star has been rising.
Some additional drama was provided at the attended performance, with an apparently under-the-weather Kwiecien dropping out after Act 2. His replacement -- Stephen Gaertner, making his Met Opera debut, no less -- rallied to the occasion.