|Venera Gimadieva as Lucia and Marco Caria as Enrico|
But in this first-time coproduction between Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and Mariinsky Theatre of Russia, directed and designed by Yannis Kokkos, the blood had metaphorically already ran. Awash with scarlet and cardinal from interiors to costumes, Kokkos's formidably dark production is soaked in a foreboding and painterly eerie blood-red beauty.
In a work based on Sir Walter Scott's Scottish-set 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, only the smallest hint of tartan splashes the plush period-inspired costumes. Juxtaposed breathtakingly against numerous abstracted geometric sets that evoke grandeur through simplicity, prominence is given to a tumultuous, ever changing sky as part of Vinicio Cheli's immensely moody lighting design.
Then there are references to the deer hunt. Symbolising tenderness tempered with strength, a large statue of a deer commands the opening scene and appears at different times in different forms. In a painted backdrop to Lucia's Mad Scene, the deer is struggling for survival - able to be brought down in seconds by a pack of dogs in a hunt - much as Lucia herself is.
|Venera Gimadieva as Lucia and Stefano Secco as Edgardo|
Two casts alternated in the principal roles across just four nights at the smaller opera theatre of the Tianqiao Performing Arts Centre while the NCPA undergoes stage maintenance and renovation. I attended the third performance in which Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva sang the title role as she did on opening night (alternating with Zhang Liping). Gimadieva's more winsome and angelic Lucia was mildly problematic but she took the Mad Scene compellingly by the horns, noticeably exciting the mostly Chinese audience who otherwise thought nothing of scrolling through their mobile devices during the performance. Gimadieva required an ounce more power to combat the drama and a little more fluidity across the coloratura but a superfine crystal top and striking flexibility of voice with underlying emotional intent made for a beguiling and graceful Lucia.
It was the men who came out victorious in this male-dominated world. Demonstratively rich and expressive in voice and acting, Stefano Secco and Marco Caria were outstanding as Lucia's lover Edgardo and her brother Enrico respectively. High-heat tenor Secco brought superb clarity to his fiercely passionate and gallant Edgardo. Together with Gimadieva the pair harmonised convincingly and, as Edgardo nears his own end in the final scene, Secco digs even deeper to give compelling gravitas.
|Marco Caria as Enrico, Venera Gimadieva as Lucia and Shi Lina as Alisa|
Minor reservations aside on the musical front, the evocative theatricality of Kokkos's Lucia di Lammermoor adds intelligent and dramatic three-dimensional weight to Donizetti's work. It opens to St Petersburg audiences later in the year, hopefully to zero tolerance on smartphone use.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Tianqiao Performing Arts Centre
Until 12th April
Production photos: Ling Feng