insane, beautifully: Raķl Hernandez and Coburn in Lucie
photo:George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera
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?