You’d need a heart of stone to be left unmoved by the opera ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’. A story of male dominated power politics versus love, it shows a heroine who, despite being described by the ROH notes as ‘a strong-minded and independent woman’, has absolutely no chance of winning. Doomed from the start, she is a bird in a cage, at the mercy of her autocratic brother, Enrico Ashton, The Master of Lammermoor, who only doubts the justice of his behaviour when he sees his sister dying.

The novel which Donizetti so magnificently transformed into an opera, was written in the Gothick style by Sir Walter Scott and published in 1811. Gothick novels were read eagerly by confined ladies of the period who relished the central role of a women, even if she was bullied, persecuted, tortured and usually driven to death. In the process she showed, unfortunately, few signs of being ‘strong-minded or independent.’
Music and operatic drama comes to change the mood of the story. Lucia, sung with great emotion as well as glorious clarity by Cuban-American Lisette Oropesa, is no passive, fainting miss, even if she is eventually overwhelmed by the system. As her brother, Enrico, sung with immutable cruelty by Christopher Maltman, pressures her into marriage with Arturo Bucklow, she remains faithful to her love for Edgardo, Master of Ravenswood.
Her determination continues, despite suitably Gothick warning signs with two energetic ghosts, one of her beloved mother, the other of a Lammermoor girl murdered by the House of Ravenswood to which Edgardo belongs. The past, swirling among the blacks mists of a graveyard, is a powerful as the present.

Edgardo, sung sweetly by American tenor Charles Castonovo, leaves the scene to sort out the Scottish question (a modern echo here which provoked some ironic laughter in the audience) and Enrico siezes his moment. Lying about Edgardo’s faithlessness, he at last induces the despairing Lucia to marry his candidate, the shadowy Arturo Bucklaw. Despairing or not, Lucia has not lost her defiant spirit and murders her new husband in the marriage bed. More blood flows as she loses Edgardo’s baby and then her mind.

Edgardo returns but too late to do more than mourn over his lover’s dead body. This is tragic opera tuned to the highest point.

There is only one drawback to this production: the split stage. A man behind me commented at the end of the second act, ‘It’s not easy to look at two places at once’, which just about sums up the problem. On one set there is singing, on the other visual imaginings of the plot. When Lucia and Edgardo meet in the crypt, her brother is searching her bedroom. There are advantages: for example we can see the murder of Arturo as the men meet in the banqueting hall. But mostly it is an irritating distraction from the forward thrust of the drama.
However, the emotional power of this opera is wonderfully well-served by the singing and the acting of this ROH cast. Even though Oropesa has to compete with the (operatic) ghosts of singers who have over the years made the role their own including, Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and Beverley Sills, she not only sings beautifully but also looks the part of a feisty young girl trapped by family duties. I can’t imagine Lucia better performed

Lucia di Lammermoor
Gaetano Donizetti
Directed by Katie Mitchell
Conducted by Michele Mariotti