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review by: Ali Goldstein

Imagine for a second that perfect, pre-dawn light in a city with a propensity for grey — say Paris, or London, or Seattle. It’s the hushed near-grey light of the morning after calibrating into normalcy; or the excitement of a big day about to come. It’s a light that brings with it the clarity and poetry of transition. This is the light in which Lucia di Lammermoor, the opera currently on stage at The Kennedy Center, unfolds. The vocals might be gorgeous and actors talented, but this is a story told by the lighting.
Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizette - English National Opera - Revival - First Night 3 Feb 2010 Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizette - English National Opera - Revival - First Night 3 Feb 2010
This is the story of little Lucia, her terrible brother Enrico, and Edgardo, the man she loves. The near faceless chorus of townspeople peer through the gaping windows of the Lucia and Enrico’s crumbling family estate and collectively narrate the sweeping range of Lucia’s grief. Despite her all-consuming passion for Edgardo, Lucia’s brother has arranged for her to marry the wealthy Arturo to save the family name. In a world without parents, the story echoes Oliver Twist and Romeo and Juliet. Lucia and Enrico feud in their family’s empty estate whose shadows alone swallow them.
What’s truly remarkable about this production, however, is how Director David Alden and his talented creative team infuse a tragedy about living for a dawn that never comes with so much light. One generation pre-occupied with science and order has just ended, and so emerges a new generation amazed by the extremes of human emotion. The emotional intensity of the characters  doesn’t quite make sense told on the monochromatic color palette, and so we see a generation framing its own experiments and frenzy of emotion in their parent’s light. In so doing, Alden crafts a generation driven mad by the inconsistency of its emotional reality and the expectations of its parents.
Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizette - English National Opera - Revival - First Night 3 Feb 2010 Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizette - English National Opera - Revival - First Night 3 Feb 2010
This is a story of grief and despair rendered lushly. In one pre-battle scene, Lucia’s returned lover waits atop a half of a winding staircase, one stray, loose light spinning around his head. The window’s cracked for the boom of the thunderstorm outside. The tension of Edgardo tormented and waiting feels so real that you almost brace for the chill of the thunderstorm.
Alden reaches into the grey and pulls electricity to the surface, singularly crafting each scene with the precision of a poem.  Crafting patterns through slight repetitions in staging, Alden draws attention to characters’ attempts at transformation or escape, stilted. In scene after scene, Lucia waits cradled in her giant windowsill, golden hair down, as though re-enforcing the agony of her expectation.
The opera’s clear pre-occupation is our capacity for extremes of emotion. But through the spectacular grey light, Alden and his creative team seem to put forth their own caveat — what happens when characters can’t see in shades of grey? The grey light illuminates the world more clearly than its characters will ever see it.
Lucia di Lammermoor - Donizette - English National Opera - Revival - First Night 3 Feb 2010
And it’s this same light that makes the story’s themes relevant in a world without estates to keep up nor lineage to uphold. This gorgeous rendition of Lucia seems to be meditating on our capacity for passion amidst a reality that feels so consistently grey. For modern audiences, this is the tease of opera. Amidst our quietly content days of tapping at the keyboard and happy hour and power yoga, stories like Lucia make us recognize our capacity for broader strokes of emotion. Lucia’s beautiful song is the hope at the end of the story, a reminder that we’re all full of voices so much bigger than ourselves.

Lucia is playing through November 19th. Before you assume opera’s out of your financial reach, The Kennedy Center offers discounted tickets to young adults aged 18 to 35 through it’s Generation O program. Visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/wno/outreach/geno/ for more details.

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