In Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, the unhappily married heroine is inspired by a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor to reflect on her own position. When faced with an impossible choice, why hadn’t she resisted and implored like Lucia?
It’s a curiosity of Christopher Cowell’s production of Donizetti’s tragedy of forced marriage for Dorset Opera that the heroine, sung by Letitia Vitelaru, is presented as so entirely passive – yet vocally the light-voiced Romanian soprano is all there.
In general Cowell’s staging, with stark, henge-like tombstones forming Louis Carver’s set and handsome Dickens-period costumes by April Dalton, looks good in its broadly traditional way, but the repeated inclusion of a silent ghost (Miranda Spencer-Pearson), who even despatches poor Lucia herself, is unpardonably silly and should never have reached the final cut.
Other main roles are solidly sung. Pauls Putnins brings moral anger to his stern Raimondo, here a local Presbyterian minister, while as Lucia’s bullying brother Enrico, Brett Polegato is rough-hewn but makes a genuine impact.
More consistently impressive is David Junghoon Kim’s Edgardo, sung with clean and lovely tone and a true sense of style; he’s ably seconded by Jung Soo Yun’s articulate Arturo.
The hard-working Dorset chorus is committed throughout, while the orchestra is focused under the invigorating beat of conductor José Miguel Esandi.
And in the famous mad scene, the company fields the glass harmonica that Donizetti originally wrote for, but which is usually replaced by the less effective flute: a small but crucial detail that brings an authentic gothic shiver to the opera’s most chilling episode.