Amid the threats of another Taal eruption and the spread of the novel coronavirus, the new production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Philippine Opera Foundation pulled off its own eruption of musical talent and outbreak of opera brilliance when it played to a VIP gala audience on Jan. 31.The superb production was highlighted by excellent singing and acting of Arthur Espiritu (as Edgardo) and Melody Leloudjian (as Lucia).
“Thanks to ‘Lucia di Lammermoor,’ I forgot my endless anxiety on coronavirus at least for three hours,” said opera watcher Margie Logarta who witnessed a huge audience turn out Sunday afternoon (Feb. 2) on the second and last performance of the opera.
In both performances, tenor Arthur Espiritu as Edgardo was the star of the night after delivering an immensely moving tomb scene in the last act.
Edgardo’s signature and last act aria, “Tombe degli avi miei,” in which he mourns the death of his Lucia, was performed magnificently by Espiritu, who was deeply moving as his ringing tenor sound underscored the pathos of the scene.
On the second performance, Espiritu’s cabaletta for the finale aria, “Fra poco a me ricovero,” was interrupted by long applause. When the audience uproar died down, he finished the aria as a volley of “bravos” shook the theater.
Opera lover Joseph Uy said, “I am so fortunate to have witnessed some of the greatest Edgardos live from Carlo Bergonzi to Placido Domingo, Luis Lima, Jose Carreras and Pavarotti (in concert version only with Sutherland). On both nights, Arthur (Espiritu) proved he had nothing to fear from all of them. His was a most heartfelt portrayal of Edgardo I have seen in my long operagoing life.”
Neurologist and art patron Joven Cuanang said he was stunned by Espiritu’s performance. “His singing was so heartfelt I could feel the dagger pierce my heart in his suicide scene.”
Espiritu clearly connected not only with the seasoned opera audience but also with the millennials, who cheered him like a rock star.
Said Cielo Lutz, “What made the performance on Sunday extra memorable for me was the audience reaction. I’ve seen many excellent opera productions in New York and Philadelphia, but none of them received the rock-concert treatment of Sunday’s ‘Lucia di Lamermoor.’ These kids, many of whom were experiencing opera for the first time, reacted loudly: laughing, gasping, snickering during a number of kissing scenes between Lucia and Edgardo, making loud comments, and clapping any time they wished, usually after a long-held high note.”
The mad scene of Louledjian was well-nuanced on the first night but there was more confidence and vocal focus and a lot more soul on the second. She was loudly cheered. On her Manila debut which was also her debut in the role, she earned her share of laurel not to mention an army of Filipino opera fans who also interrupted her mad scene cabaletta in the aria, “Il dolce suono” with long applause.
Meanwhile, tenor Nohmer Nival as Normanno (huntsman and retainer of Enrico) easily stood out in the first act, soprano Camille Lopez-Molina was a stunning singing actress as Alisa, Lucia’s handmaid. Bass Shi Zong as the Calvinist chaplain was a superior vocal presence and so was the Lord Bucklaw of tenor Ivan Niccolo Nery.
Korean baritone Byeong-In Park as Lord Enrico Ashton delivered with his solid baritone. The Viva Voce Lab—trained by Camille Lopez-Molina—was a versatile singing ensemble.
Italian conductor Alessandro Palumbo, who led the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra with fine attention to detail, showed he knew opera inside and out.
The direction by Italian Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini was magical even as he worked closely with his assistant director, the Cambodian Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong.
This 2020 CCP edition of “Lucia di Lammermoor” was several notches superior to past CCP productions such as “Rigoletto,” “La Traviata,” “Barber of Seville” and “L’elisir d’amore.”
For me, it is easily the opera production of the decade made possible by the tireless efforts of the producer, Nedy Tantoco of Rustan’s Group of Companies, and the CCP.