Mad scenes in Lucia di Lammermoor and beyond

Opera producer Nedy Tantoco with the cast and directorial team of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor opera 2020: Camille Lopez-Molina (as Alisa), Byeong In Park (as Lord Enrico Ashton), Arthur Espiritu (as Edgardo di Ravenswood), Melody Louledjian (as Lucia Ashton), Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini (Director), and Prince Ravivaddhana Monipong Sisowath (Assistant Director). Photo by Visions PR Outfit

Like it or not, the mad scenes in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor pretty much reflect the country’s social and political landscape.

On the week the Donizetti opera was in full rehearsal at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the country’s vice-president “unmasks” a public servant in the current administration as “purveyor of fake news” and asks why is she receiving P150, 000 a month when clearly she doesn’t represent the country’s overseas Filipino workers?

Arthur Espiritu and Melody Louledjian in rehearsal. Photo by Prince Ravivaddhana Monipong Sisowath.

As the Lucia of French soprano Melody Louledjian is heard for the first time in rehearsal, another mad scene unfolded in the ash fall-covered Batangas province.

A police chief overseeing evacuation of residents warned a local official he would be thrown unto the crater of the angry volcano if he continued to defy orders to stay out of the 14-kilometer danger zone.

In the press conference for Lucia di Lammermoor, opera producer Nedy Tantoco and lead singers of the Donizetti opera were asked what their real-life mad scenes are.

Official poster of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Opera production involves– among others -- finding the right singers, getting venue sponsors and providing air tickets and hotel accommodation for both singers and members of the artistic team and raising funds for talent fees and promotion expenses.

Tantoco replied: “It’s true that preparing to mount an opera involves some kind madness. The opera is full of entertaining arias but it involves a lot of hard work. For another, it is very expensive to mount one. The madness begins while raising funds through the help of various sponsors and looking after the needs of the artists and production team. It involves a whole lot of preparations that can induce madness. But when your audience enjoys it, you realize later your act of ‘madness’ actually paid off.”

Tantoco who was also producer of the last two operas heard at the CCP (Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’ amore) said the initial task was how to find the right Lucia which has one of the most challenging roles for singers in the bel canto category.

“It has been challenging for us to find the right opera singer who would fit the role and I’m so glad we found the right singer in the person of soprano Melody Louledjian,” added Tantoco, who chairs of the Rustan’s Group of Companies.

Louledjian’s mad scenes in real life?

“Obviously I cannot reveal much because I wanted my private life really for my own self and not for the public,” she answered.

But preparing for her role which requires an equal dose of good acting and spectacular singing, the soprano said she has a good idea how to approach her Mad Scene in the opera. “This mad moment is not something that dropped from above. It is the result of emotional trauma. I’d like to build that mad moment and make it look real and not contrived. I take time building the scene and not just by looking insane but by projecting something inside me. In opera, even Lucia's kind of madness should make sense."

Sopranos are one in saying the role is long and taxing. It holds true for Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa who once admitted: “Everyone gets a feature moment but this opera has an extended scene at the end for the soprano when she sings and must show everything.”

She was referring to the famous “mad scene” where an insane Lucia sings aimlessly and pining for the love of her life, Sir Edgardo Ravenswood.

Opera watchers agree it is a scene that makes or breaks opera singers and was a signature showpiece of acclaimed soprano Dame Joan Sutherland who has worked with Filipino pianist Najib Ishmail in a master class in Australia.

Tenor Arthur Espiritu said he has his own share of unpleasant things encountered as opera singer and they are enough to unsettle anyone in this business. “But in my case, I try to learn something positive from every encounter with true-to-life mad scene."

He can only think of one thing when it comes to his role as Sir Edgardo of Ravenswood. “It’s that feeling of wanting to fix things and help people but sometimes it’s not that easy. You have to endure people that have their own hidden agendas and only want what’s best for them. Think of being in love with someone who has a parent or relative that does not approve. True, this Donizetti masterpiece has echoes of Romeo and Juliet which is another opera with tragic ending.”

The presscon crowd tasted one vocal magic from Lucia di Lammermoor with the Act 1 duet, Sulla tomba che rinserra rendered by Louledjian and Espiritu.

The Act 1 duet from Lucia di Lammermoor as rendered by Arthur Espiritu and Melody Louledljian during the presscon. Photo by People Asia.

Directed by Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini with assistant director Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong, the 2020 Lucia at the CCP has a cast that includes bass Shi Zong as Raimondo Bidebent, a Calvinist chaplain; mezzo-soprano Camille Lopez-Molina as Alisa, Lucia's handmaid; tenor Nomher Nival as Normanno, a huntsman and retainer of Enrico.

They will be joined by choral group Viva Voce Voice Lab with guest singers from the various music schools in Manila and Iloilo.

The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under Maestro Alessandro Palumbo provides the accompaniment.

The January 31-February 2 performances of Lucia di Lammermoor will benefit the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra Society, Inc. (PPOSI) and the Philippine Italian Association (PIA) Endowment Fund. For tickets and more information, call 8832-3704 or 8891-9999.

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