Unfortunately, the Washington National Opera needs someone who can step in and finish off the details. The stagehands Thursday were invasively noisy behind the curtain, which is amateur stuff. Alden’s production needs only a bit of editing to have real emotional force. And musically, a few more rehearsals would help conductor Philippe Auguin clean up the many tempo disagreements and small infelicities between chorus and orchestra. Hire some horn players who can enter cleanly and together, and the performance would have real polish.
Fortunately, the cast was compelling. Coburn’s voice has genuine character and sufficient force to carry the role. In the heat of the moment, she has all the speed and clarity one can hope for; only when she seems to calculate too much, as in the rather stilted and slow tempo of the Act I “Regnava nel silenzio” does the music take on the methodical, dutiful grind of overstudied bel canto. The mad scene, though dramatically contained, was looser, more expressive and satisfying.
As Edgardo, Saimir Pirgu, an Albanian tenor making his WNO debut, is a happy discovery, with the rare ability to support the tone and connect bits of disconnected material into meaningful phrases, without forcing the beauty of his voice. His final aria, “Fra poco a me ricovero,” is a brutal study in a large, upward bounding phrases. Like Coburn in her mad scene, Pirgu made it smooth, pliant and a little cold.
That was the spirit of the evening. “Lucia” has frightened and titillated since Scott worked up some bloody local gossip into a potboiler novel. Donizetti made the blood flow with Mediterranean abandon, and generations of singers have forced the music to extremes that it can’t necessarily bear. The Alden production, and the performances that carry it, seem intended as a kind of corrective, a psychological autopsy under a cold, clinical light. It is a reasonable if sometimes frustrating approach, more rewarding to the ears and mind then the thirst for traditional operatic thrills.
A second cast, with the distinguished Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova, will alternate with the singers heard Thursday.
Lucia di Lammermoor
by Gaetano Donizetti. Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. Directed by David Alden; music conducted by Philippe Auguin. With Alexey Dolgov, Michael Chioldi, Brian Mulligan, Mirco Palazzi, Paolo Pecchioli, Sarah Mesko, Jeffrey Gwaltney, Corey Evan Rotz. Two hours 35 minutes.Through Nov. 19 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.