Lucia di Lammermoor, which had its successful premiere on 2 April in Tartu, has posed challenges for vocalists and directors for close to 200 years. The opera’s libretto has allowed social change to interpreted in an intriguing vein for new generations of audiences. This Vanemuine version is no exception. The recent trend seems to be about using opera overtures to tell the audience the story even before it unfolds in the libretto, but Roman Hovenbitzer cracks his main directorial leitmotif by showing us a fragment from Lucia’s childhood.
A young girl playing with stuffed animals and toys involves her big brother into the game. The charming idyll is supplanted by a shocking scene where the brother tries to rape his sister. The situation is only saved when another young man, the young Edgardo, rushes into the room, and chases her brother off. This astonishing introduction to the opera determines the course of the plotline to come and offers contemporary viewers an understandable explanation for how Lucia’s state of mind develops right up to the madness of the finale. In this sense, Hovenbitzer’s idea is genius – thanks to their introspective experiments and psychological soul-searching, 21 century people are long aware of the fact that we are all products of our childhood. Our experiences at an early age can haunt us and influence our destinies much later than we dare to admit. So maybe we don’t need to delve all that deeply into incomprehensible oppositions that come from inter-clan feuds or the feminist interpretation of how female initiative is suppressed in the man’s world we inhabit. The new reality is all around us in daily news – family violence, paedophilia, incest and sexual exploitation. Or the intrusion of a different cultural space into Europe, where arranged marriages and a male-centred world are daily phenomena that we would like to be long forgotten. In this context, a woman going mad is completely logical; and watching the opera, you realize that humankind has always, in human relationships, teetered on the border between the acceptable and the off-limits. Today we are just seeing new attempts to shift the boundaries, new oppositions, a new societal insanity. Nothing new under the sun.
The stage designer: Roy Spahn (Germany) has worked in sync with the director’s ideas. The visual power in the context of the storytelling is strong and keeps the viewer’s senses keen by slipping in all sorts of hints with details both big and small. Lucia’s whole dollhouse world is constantly obliquely within the performance and that helps the viewer to understand the background behind Lucia’s psychological collapse. (…)
What’s ultimately important is that in this small city of Tartu with its relatively modest means, people have managed to create art on an European level. Director Roman Hovenbitzer, designer Roy Spahn and lighting designer Ulrich Schneider are all from Germany and international crowd is also in the majority among the singers, supported every bit as respectably by the solid Vanemuine singers.
Playing the part of Lucia, the Dane Henriette Bonde-Hansen is slight, vulnerable, sensitive, and as a figure on stage, extremely congenial, even as a woman she remains the child playing with dolls. (…) The Latvian Jānis Apeinis did a splendid job playing Lord Enrico Ashton. He was very responsive and fluid in following the leitmotif provided by the director; he did not stick to stock-in-trade bel canto-era heroic acting methods, and came off as a total modern-day sociopath. He was convincing in acting out his sinful but forbidden passion for his sister and signalled that the grudge that Enrico bore Edgardo did not come from an old family feud but the more simple fact that Edgardo was the one who had intervened in their youth to save the honour of Enrico’s sister. “Feeble-minded!” is the only, passionless exclamation from the sociopath Enrico when Edgardo kills himself. The shame of his youth was avenged.
To sum up, I would remind all fans of opera in Tallinn that it takes just as long to get to Tartu as it does from Tartu to Tallinn and that at the Vanemuine is well worth seeing under any circumstance. Wonderfully beautiful music, an international cast of soloists on stage and our own high-calibre Estonian singers deserve a hearty ovation, cries of bravo, flowers and acclaim.
Estonia’s spiritual capital takes on Lucia di Lammermoor
(…) The work staged in Tartu could also be titled feminist with equanimity. It isn’t a traditional production that follows the libretto to the letter, either. Nor does Hovenbitzer spare us from violence, but it’s presented without gritty naturalism. It’s hard to imagine more public attention (and thus ticket sales) for an opera than an enraged audience. It’s too bad that Roman Hovenbitzer’s vision did not manage to cause as big an outcry as the recent premiere of Aida at the national opera. Still, both Germans take liberties. Aida director Tobias Kratzer has his protagonist raped, while Lucia is a victim of brutal incest. Why does one production get more mud slung at it, then?
A plus for both of them is the musical direction. (…) Lucia doesn’t make such demands on the viewer, and it can be followed without major effort. Perhaps some things are made overly plain, only to be thrown into confusion again. Green running shoes and Renaissance collars and so on – there is a lack of a uniform space and time. And yet Lucia leaves a straight integral impression. (…)
Given Vanemuine’s possibilities, it’s an extremely exciting operatic theatre and I always look forward to new productions. Lucia di Lammermoor is of the same calibre as Eugene Onegin, The Teacher of Reigi and the Vanemuine Grand House production of Carmen.
The story of Roman Hovenbitzer’s production starts in the halcyon days when the lead female protagonist is playing not with flowers and grass but with a doll and a rhino. A soft and lovely symbol of innocence. Her older brother, who is invited to join in the game, abuses the little one; Edgardo, who is the same age, enters through the window and saves the girl from shame. To the director’s credit, the scene works as an organic whole, not an illustration of the overture. Yet the scene didn’t get annoyingly naturalistic, it had pedal points, it could be grasped. Only a crack in the window of Lucia’s room hints at the stain on her soul. Lucia grows up and the baggage of her past, the sins of her forebears, materialise in the form of a Ghost who always appears when with a clatter, Lucia pulls open the cover of the fountain. Devotees of Freud and Jung applauded enthusiastically at this point. In the blood-stained water, she floats the paper boats of her dreams. Marika Aidla’s Ghost seemed natural but horrible, like a fate that can’t be escaped. With a few brushstrokes, Hovenbitzer succeeded in creating a proper horror-film atmosphere. The voodoo-like doubling of characters as dolls, the empty, bleak and abandoned-looking rooms, dream sequence like scenes, moving curtains, characters barging through the walls. Blood flows from Lucia’s eyes on the cover of the programme and the water in the fountain; and of course the bridal dress turns red. He also underscored the dreamlike states with the lack of a specific setting and era.
The powerful Enrico was the main person to profit from Lucia’s doubt and hesitation. Upon first meeting with the violent brother, he left the impression of a character with a more stolid stage presence, giving off a diabolical machismo though no stranger to humanity either. The theme of sexual violence pervades the life of the adult Lucia, too, when her brother uses brute force to marry her off, but Hovenbitzer doesn’t cross the boundary of good taste in any of these scenes.
There’s good reason to be satisfied with the latest from Vanemuine, Estonia’s best opera house!