Lucia di Lammermoor review LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. Director: Angelo Gobbato. Conductor: Kamal Khan. Cast: Brittany Smith, Lukhanyo Moyake, Conroy Scott, Van Wyk Venter. Artscape Opera House.


Angelo Gobbato and Kamal Khan have once again joined forces after a quarter of a century to present an admirable production of Donizetti’s masterpiece, intensifying its innate brutality to Gothic effect.

Whether staged with all the traditional accessories of Scottish reference (tartan fabrics and lugubrious stag’s heads on walls) or in a more neutral and minimalist setting, this opera is implacably dour, its impact rendered all the more striking by exquisite music of poignant delicacy.

Gobbato has opted for the latter, more universal approach and under his direction, vocalists and creative team have delivered generously.

Oliver Hauser’s evocative lighting and an array of projected images by Kirsten Cumming to complement a versatile set from veteran Michael Mitchell, render elaborate props superfluous. Symbolic crests of warring clans and recurring glimpses of inclement weather, as well as many shades of relentless grey, convey the unsettling atmosphere in which Lucia’s tragedy is played out.

In this chill and hostile setting, heat is generated by human passions, of which there are many: sexual ardour of lovemaking, rage at betrayal (perceived as well as real), and the violent imperative to exact revenge. This is the stuff of which great opera is wrought, with daunting demands made of performers’ vocal and dramatic abilities.

Lucia di Lammermoor review

Sole survivor

Most disconcerting of all is what amounts to a triumph of evil as the chief culprit of comprehensive misery is the sole survivor left standing at final curtain.

This is a departure from the original story, since in this version, the triple-dyed villain of the piece is Normanno, his role elevated from mere employee of Lucia’s unpleasant brother to that of the heroine’s psychiatric carer; his unrequited lust for his patient becomes the mainspring of all that ensues. The point of this innovation is that it transfers some of the culpability from Enrico to his employee, making the former almost as much a victim as his sister.

Van Wyk Venter, entrusted with the role of Normanno, succeeds impressively in conveying all the understated venom of this unedifying specimen of humanity.

Undisputed star of the production has to be Brittany Smith, who delivers the performance of her career as the fragile Lucia. She does not portray the young woman; she becomes her, internalising all her anxieties and obsessions with an ethereal appeal. As for her singing, its agility and sweetness are heartbreaking in the pathos they impart.

Accomplished tenor Lukhanyo Moyake proves a worthy foil to Smith; his arias are exemplary in their range, technique and expressive quality.

Completing the trio of notable leads is bass-baritone Conroy Scott, radiating authority as the drug-addicted Enrico. Effortlessly resonant and well-articulated, his delivery is enviable.

Lucia di Lammermoor review

Sheer joy for the ear

Then there is the chorus, who provide sheer joy for the ear in their transition from robust festivity to mournful dirge as the fortunes of Lucia change.

Among the cameo roles, newcomer Asisipho Petu, as Alisa, offers a pleasing interpretation of Lucia’s maid and confidante, while rich-voiced Lonwabo Mose is a strong stage presence in the role of the priestly Raimondo.

Between Kamal Khan’s proficient conducting of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and Gobbato’s magisterial direction, CTO’s Lucia di Lammermoor does full justice to Donizetti’s masterpiece. What better celebration could there be of a company’s 25th anniversary than this world-class production of the opera that was its maiden offering when it was first created at the end of the last century?

What: Lucia di Lammermoor

Where and when: Artscape from 14 to 23 June 2024

Tickets: Webtickets