From the ominous opening of the overture, we knew many things about Sarasota Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” We knew the orchestra, under Anthony Barrese, was in good form. We divined from those first emotionally melodramatic chords something was operatically afoot. And, as the curtain rose on a scene of moors and mists, stony steps and bottomless wells, this was going to be heavy going.
What we didn’t immediately understand was how the gloom of an archaic tale by Sir Walter Scott and the dramatic music of Gaetano Donizetti, could become radiant because its namesake, Lucia, was being sung by a miniscule powerhouse of a singer named Kathleen Kim. Without question, this evening belonged to her.
Kim, familiar to Sarasota audiences from her days as an Apprentice Artist 10 years ago and her more recent stint, in 2005, as a Studio Artist, made a major splash a few years ago when she appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD simulcast of “Tales of Hoffmann” as Olympia, the doll whose coloratura antics brought down opera and movies houses around the world.
Recently, this diminutive dynamo decided to take on the role of Lucia with all its maddeningly difficult acting and singing challenges. And what better place to do it the first time than Sarasota Opera? Kim’s decision to debut the role here was a gift to her audience and a great boon to the company, because with every appearance she made on stage, her colleagues rose to match her myriad abilities, setting a standard for the company that we hope will infuse future productions.
Kim taught many lessons. First, she showed us how a smaller voice can project and cut over an orchestra with power, precision and beauty. Yet this musically adept artist never sang beyond her capacity and, in doing so, she kept almost all the other voices in check. Joshua Kohl, as her forbidden and secret lover, Edgardo, sounded more brilliant than he’s managed in previous Sarasota Opera roles, including Tamino, in “The Magic Flute,” and Don Ottavio in last season’s “Don Giovanni.”
Her intensity and ability as a singing actress also brought up the standards of the cast in what would otherwise have been a static, inert production. Kim’s Lucia is so innocent and naïve, you sense before the fact of looming disaster, her vulnerability. Lucia is a tragic pawn, pulled apart in a royal chess game that can have no winners. Her character gave Kohl’s Edgardo a touching innocence, as well, so their individual demises make perfectly logical transitions.
Lee Poulis, as Lucia’s brother, Enrico, and Young-Bok Kim, as Raimondo, the solitary voice of reason in this tragic Romeo-and-Juliet-type tale of warring families and factions from forgotten times, lent excellent credence to the goings on through their singing and character portrayals. Daryl Freedman’s Alisa made a sympathetic companion to Lucia; Steven Uliana was a take-charge Normanno; and James Chamberlain was a mightily hateful and obnoxious Arturo (succumbing at times to over-singing) whom we were almost happy to see Lucia dispatch.
Brian Robertson’s staging, while dormant and stationary, was about all one could do with this stilted tale of tragedy. Still, we’d like to have seen the kind of inner characterization displayed by Kim in each of the chorus members. Even standing-and-singing choruses can people a set with individuals if they have the proper motivation. As we saw, acting singers don’t have to move a muscle to convince us and tell us who they are.
Robert O’Hearn, whose scenic designs have given us dozens of important productions (with Nathanial Merrill) at the Met for more than a half-century, was another dynamic addition to Sarasota Opera this season. His sets, made available courtesy of the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera, brought vivid life to every act and scene from the cold, crumbling cathedral walls to the magnificent and opulent draperies in the chambers. Ken Yunker’s lighting was suitably dramatic, and Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes, especially Lucia’s wedding gown, added depth to the singer’s already deep characterizations.
This “Lucia” was one of the finest presentations ever seen or heard in this town. The famous vocal sextet was positively gorgeous. The impeccable matching of flute and voice in the legendary mad scene was breathtaking, as was Kim’s flawless coloratura and spot-on perfect pitch throughout the opera. Barrese, in the pit, seemed to breathe with the singers, leading while following, and making his orchestra sound rich but never overpowering. We have no doubt that this production will set the tone for other productions and that, with insight and guidance, Sarasota Opera is opening still another door to the future.
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