One of the nice things about the annual California Opera Association summer festival is the chance to hear some of the same fine singers from one year to the next.
That was certainly the case in the company’s fully staged production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” Sunday at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. Baritone Gabriel Manro and tenor Benjamin Brecher both offered powerful, emotional performances.
The festival, which combines professionals such as Manro and Brecher with highly motivated students hoping to make a mark in the competitive world of opera, always concludes with a full production. Artistic director Edna Garabedian and stage director Richard Adamson delivered a nicely realized version of “Lucia” with period costumes and a peppy little festival orchestra conducted for the first time with finesse and sensitivity by Brian Asher Alhadeff as part of a new collaboration with Opera San Luis Obispo.
Manro, as the evil brother Enrico, brought a punchy, potent vigor to the role, his voice wonderfully textured and powerful. He delivered a certain pungent darkness to the character, as befitting a man who wants to marry off his sister to a stranger without any regard for her feelings, but he never became a one-note villain. (He was so commanding, in fact, that I found myself considering Enrico’s point of view, which I consider quite an accomplishment.)
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Brecher, another Cal Opera veteran, offered a moving performance as the beleaguered Edgardo, whose love for Lucia isn’t meant to be. (His third-act aria “Tombe degli avi miei” flowed with emotion.)
Coloratura soprano Jamie Bonetto had some stirring moments as the certifiably crazy Lucia, and the famous “Mad Scene,” after she’s killed her new husband and stumbles about in a blood-soaked nightie, suitably captured the anguish of the character. (I was glad to see the well-prepared ensemble, whose members have to react in terror/perplexity/sadness for what seems a never-ending bout of insanity as Lucia stumbles around like a zombie, was able for the most part to keep up the needed intensity.) Bonetto, who I critiqued rather briskly last season in terms of her acting in “Lakme,” stepped it up this time around. I’d still like to see more romantic chemistry from her on stage, but she was able to create a much more believable character than last year. And I enjoyed Bonetto’s vocal technique in the “Mad Scene.”
Mezzo-soprano Alexandra Jerinic, another Cal Opera veteran, was delightful as Lucia’s companion – I wish we could have heard more from her – and bass George Skipworth was a powerhouse Raimondo, ominous and profound. Zachary Mendez and Michael Lam both showed a lot of promise in supporting roles, with Lam a standout.
Adding a wonderful touch: dancers from California Arts Academy, whose Scottish-themed choreography (by Carla Stallings-Lippert and Margaret Hord) was jaunty and accomplished.
I liked much of the stage direction of the production with one exception: the point when Edgardo arrived to crash the wedding. It felt flat and a missed opportunity to raise the audience’s blood pressure. In an opera as lengthy (and occasionally drowsy) as this one, with much of the action taking place offstage, that’s important.
Still, with Manro and Brecher leading the way, this “Lucia” turned out to be yet another diverting and meaningful work from California Opera.