Soprano superstar Jessica Pratt gives one of the finest performances you're likely to see on an Australian stage
When a man and a woman, declaring their love to each other in an Italian opera, sing that “only death can break this vow,” you know that at least one of them is not in for a good time.
Unfortunately, in Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 three-act tragedy, neither Lucia, nor her beloved Edgardo, are destined to live happily ever after. Lucia di Lammermoor, which remains an undisputed gem in the bel canto canon, is a grand and dramatic tale of forbidden love, warring families, revenge, murder, madness and suicide.
At the centre of it all is Lucia – a vulnerable, beautiful young woman who pledges her undying love to her family's greatest rival, Edgardo. When her brother, Enrico, hatches a plot to break them apart by forcing Lucia to marry another man, the story descends into the bloodiest depths of delicious Gothic horror.
Given that this work lives or dies by its Lucia, there was never any doubt that the Victorian Opera had a success on its hands with the virtuosic Bristol-born, Australia-based Jessica Pratt in the lead role. Pratt debuted as Lucia in 2007, and has made her career out of the role in opera houses across the world, just as Dame Joan Sutherland did in the ‘70s.
Indeed, Pratt’s performance is revelatory; no more so than in the famous ‘Mad Scene’ (Il dolce suono), in which she emerges in a bloody nightgown, wielding a dagger, descending into despair. Her coloratura (agile vocal leaps and trills) is virtually flawless; after performing the role countless times, Pratt owns her Lucia, knowing when to pull her powerful voice back to a tightly controlled softness, and when to crescendo to heart-stopping high notes. Not simply the weak, ruined woman, Pratt plays Lucia’s indecision, love and pain with nuance. It’s satisfying when, instead of returning from the brink of madness by the love of a man or a sense of responsibility to her husband, she refuses to concede, still possessing the energy to throw one last barb at her destroyers: “May God forgive your callous cruelty”.
That this scene takes place among vast Gothic arches and winding staircases (Henry Bardon) in the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre renders the pathos even more intense. Less so with the gobsmacked chorus of wedding guests, with whom director Cameron Menzies could have done more. At times, the direction feels overly staid. There’s nothing wrong with the Victorian Opera’s choice to mount a traditional version of an opera where the beauty of the score (conducted masterfully by artistic director Richard Mills) and the top-notch performances speak for themselves – but livelier direction, along with an update on the costumes (the production uses the original set and costumes from the late ’70s) would have elevated the production to fit the enormity of the on-stage talent.