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Going insane, beautifully: Raķl Hernandez and Coburn in Lucie de Lammermoor.

photo:George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera

One Woman Show
By Paul Rapp

Lucie de Lammermoor

Glimmerglass Opera, July 3

Make room for Sarah Co burn. Itís star time. Coburn simply carries the entire company in a tour de force performance in Gaetano Donizettiís Lucie de Lammermoor, the finest individual performance that I have seen at Glimmerglass, and pretty much anywhere else. The diminutive 26-year-old Oklahoman sang circles around the pretty soprano-showcase bel canto score, pulling nuance out of breathy, stepped swoops, projecting whispers, and hitting scene-ending high notes that would make Minnie Riperton scratch her head and fold her tent. She moved and acted beautifullyóthrough most of the second act she bounced around the stage barefoot, tossing red rose petals signifying blood and pain, a woman for whom fate has bought a one-way ticket to Wig Cityóand she was as believable as she was terrifying, all while doing the lionís share of the singing. And on top of all this, Ms. Coburn is, to put it perhaps-indelicately-for-an-opera-review-but-so-what . . . a major babe! It really doesnít get better than this. Want your socks knocked off, dry-cleaned and put back on? Skip the rest of this review and just go.

Because thatís so much for the good news. If Coburn wasnít there burning up the stage, this play would have been a disaster. If every other aspect of this production was intentionally muted to give Coburn a wide berth, thatís an understandable tactic, but wholly unnecessary.

The minimal set consisted of ramps and hung rectangular panels, all black with gray cloud patterns, all which moved around occasionally for no discernable reason. Twice a white panel dropped from the rafters, causing me to wonder if perhaps theyíd mistakenly mounted the panel backwards, paint-side-back, since the glaring whiteness was distracting. Other than that, the set neither added nor detracted, as it barely existed.

The men in the cast were dressed uniformly in ludicrous and bulky period hunting gear, like if L.L. Bean had been around in 1835 and a bunch of urban rubes went shopping and bought the most expensive and shiny stuff in the store. The women wore equally ludicrous deep red period gowns, like from a bourgeois 1835 Satanic wedding party.

The sole attempt at re-interpretation was to draw a parallel between hunted deer and the treatment of women. This was introduced in the opening scene, when a young girl in antlers is rescued from a hunterís gaze by a matron. Halfway through the play, the entire womenís chorus (in their poofy, devil dresses) appeared wearing antlers. Halloo? Overkill alert! We got it the first time!

Maybe Iím picking the wrong plays, but this is the third straight work Iíve seen at Glimmerglass that is set in the period of the original, with period costumes, and stages that are bereft of color or life. What happened to the high- concept killer productions, the explosions of ideas, like 2001ís gender-bending Agrippina or 2003ís pop-culture orgy Bluebeard? Iíve heard rumors that some Glimmerglass patrons complained that their precious operas were being ďpervertedĒ by imaginative reworkings, so that the reins have been pulled in on some of the more non-traditional and modern productions. If this is the case, for shame. Itís the drastic reinventions that give venerable operas new life and relevance. Like neo-conservative strict constructionists of the Constitution, there are those who believe, out of fear more than anything else, that opera must remain static and reverent. Nonsense. The arch-weirdness of these new productions were what got me interested in opera, and I know Iím not alone. Take that away and youíre signing operaís death warrant. Put another way, more than half of Glimmerglassís audience for this 30th anniversary season arenít going to be around for the 40th. Whoís gonna replace them?

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