A scorching “Lucia” at Lyric and sizzling sound from Apollo’s Fire in Hyde Park

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

What: “Lucia di Lammermoor”
Where: Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Dr.
When: Through Nov. 6
Tickets: Lyricopera.org

Lyric Opera of Chicago unveiled its second production of the season Saturday night to an audience stunned by its musical brilliance and dramatic force. This rendering of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” is a breathtaking, glorious night at the opera.

Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova is an unforgettable Lucia, who combines lustrous singing with vocal heft and searing intensity. Her mad scene is a soaring success from beginning to end because of its human complexity and telling detail.

The other half of this pair of star-crossed lovers is Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. As Edgardo, his singing has ringing clarity and heartfelt passion.

The man who thwarts their plan for happiness is Lucia’s brother Enrico. He is brought to villainous life by baritone Quinn Kelsey, who fumes and rages in a voice dark and delicious as barely sweetened chocolate.

The opera, with libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, is based on the 1819 novel by Sir Walter Scott, “The Bride of Lammermoor.” Aside from the occasional tartan and some sparse heather, the setting is not particularly Scottish. Instead, the stage dress is dark and minimal. Outdoor scenes are rough-hewn and wild while the interior scenes are gloomy and dim. Both are dominated by gray and black backdrops. Outside they appear as ominous, stormy clouds, inside as slabs of cold marble. Wherever they are, the lovers are surrounded by the dark forces of fate.

This effect is heightened by several drops that open by moving from right or left or by moving up or down so that inside and out are separating only by small slivers, increasing the sense of claustrophobia and creating a virtual prison.

The natural part of the landscape features only two trees. The first is hideously bent, and can be seen as a symbol of the cruel treatment by Enrico and his family to Edgardo and his clan. The second is barren and full of chopped off limbs and can been as a symbol of Lucia’s loveless future and untimely demise.

Throughout, a huge, luminous moon – long associated with lunacy – hangs over the proceedings, warning us of Lucia’s impending madness which comes about when her brother tricks her into thinking her true love has abandoned her.

The music from the pit is as fascinating as the singing on the stage with Enrique Mazzola making his Lyric debut as conductor. The Lyric orchestra creates thrilling music while the Lyric chorus, prepared by chorus master Michael Black, provides splendid support and pleasing, hearty singing.

This “Lucia di Lammermoor” is opera at its very best and should not be missed.

*****

Apollo’s Fire, a baroque ensemble based in Cleveland, made its long awaited Chicago debut at Mandel Hall on Friday night, kicking off the 2016-17 season of University of Chicago Presents. It was an evening to remember.

Led by harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, the group offered sizzling playing, always finding and emphasizing the most exciting elements of the music. Sorrell is charismatic leader, her physical movements as musical and graceful as her playing. Her ensemble showed commitment at every turn and infused the music with vigor and vitality.

Their selections from Telemann’s “Don Quixote Suite” created marvelous storytelling with warm sun when the knight awakens and gusty winds as he tilts at windmills.

The heart of the performance featured two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. In Concerto No. 4, violinist Olivier Brault was elegant and exultant and Francis Colpron and Kathie Stewart provided airy and delicate sound on the recorders. For Concert No. 5, Sorrell herself was the standout, with her solo harpsichord work intricate and full of virtuosic turns.

The Chaconne from Handel’s “Terpsichore” was lyrical and very pretty. Vivaldi’s “La Folia,” in an arrangement by Sorrell, was darn good fun as the entire ensemble gloried in the ever-quickening pace.

The ensemble was met by wild applause and loud cheers when it was over, the audience being very well pleased.

The next University of Chicago Presents concert is Fri., Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Mandel Hall when the Danish String Quartet performs the String Quartet No. 15 by Shostakovich and is then joined by cellist Torleif Thedeen for Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. Visit chicagopresents.uchicago.edu for tickets or more information.