A Hit Among Young Audiences
The Metropolitan Opera's new modern production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor' has proven to be a hit among young audiences, in particular Millennials and Generation Z. What can often be described as a bit stuffy and outdated, opera has an unfortunate connotation among young audiences across America today, where opera is often not even discussed nevermind taught as an integral part of a well-rounded education, now limited to the most elite private schools. The Metropolitan Opera is seeking to bridge the gap between an art form that was once considered unrelatable and irrelevant to youth, to becoming an exciting and intriguing new adventure to explore. The use of modern elements in opera is more relatable to a younger, urban audience who would most likely go see an opera in a metropolitan area such as New York City. It is much more relatable, than say, the use of big, ornate and old-fashioned costumes that they picture their great-grandmother wearing. Having said that, there are many young people who do appreciate the beauty of traditional costumes and staging elements of an opera (especially bel canto opera), however, if the Metropolitan Opera is seeking to diversify their audiences and bring in more youth, the vast majority of youth respond best to modern adaptations with visually stunning productions and a relatable story to tell. In this regard, the Metropolitan Opera has succeeded in producing an opera that is relatable to young audiences and can foster a love of opera and encourage future exploration among the youth.
A Multimedia Mastermind
The stunning visuals and use of mixed media in this modern production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor' is the work of a mastermind, of which Simon Stone is to be praised. What is often visually lacking in bel canto opera where the voices are front and center rather than big movements in acting and staging being predominately displayed, is now full of action-packed adventure with many avenues to indulge in for a completely stimulating experience. The use of film projected above the stage was a clever way to add special intrigue, which is certainly geared for a young audience who might have a low attention span, and it was genius to pre-record scenes that were similar in nature but depicted perhaps a different angle for audiences to truly ponder and think about. This use of pre-recorded scenes displayed above the stage captured the attention of a youth who have a hard time being torn away from their phones for more than a few minutes at a time. Having personally talked with young audience members, including afro-latino urban youth of which this was their first time attending the Metropolitan Opera, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of the modern elements including the use of film, the moving stage, and constant changing of scenery.
The rotating stage, while tricky for the singers and undoubtedly difficult to master during rehearsals, appeared flawless during the live performances. It was amazing to see the scenery seamlessly transition without any awkward, bulky movements. The audience was focusing more on other elements of the moving scenery rather than typically looking for the stage-hands dressed in black and awkwardly trying to pull heavy objects and drawing attention to themselves. There was so much for the senses to indulge in that scenery transitions went without much notice, other than the delayed reaction of "I didn't even see the set change!" or "How did they do that?" to "That transition was seamless!" The audience has spoken in favor of the rotating stage and appreciated being able to view multiple angles of the scenery and a more complex, multi-faceted approach, which would otherwise be very difficult if not impossible to produce.
Some older, more seasoned audience members, (and young opera aficionados alike) disapproved of the rotating stage and use of film, calling it distracting and claiming it drew attention away from the storyline. However, the newer, young audience members approved and found it exciting and riveting. This is where the Metropolitan Opera could perhaps find some better middle ground during future productions, with a bit less movement during scenes and utilizing film that matches more with the storyline being portrayed on the stage, as it did tend to feature other obscure elements at times, with audience members confused as to what the black and white film was. When the film matched closely with what was occurring on stage, it paired beautifully. Simon Stone, being an acclaimed film-maker in his own right, could take this experimental production and perfect it to include only the film scenes which make sense with the action on stage. Other than the black and white film, it seemed to enhance the storyline rather than distract or take away from it. Overall, as a young audience, we appreciate the Metropolitan Opera trying something new and we applaud Simon Stone for using multimedia in a unique and visually exciting way, with some critiques to make future productions more congruent and in harmony with the storyline. Which brings us to the next point- the storyline and translation thereof...
To appeal to younger audiences, we understand the Metropolitan Opera's move to get rid of word-for-word translations and rather use simpler paraphrasing which still conveys the general understanding and meaning of the words. However, what can not be overlooked is the Metropolitan Opera completely changing the translation to match what is happening in the new production versus what is actually being spoken and sung in Italian. The English translation of the Italian text was completely incorrect and was often laughable at times, especially to a fluent speaker of Italian reading what the supposed translation is. This is the most concerning aspect of this production which we had no option but to write about for the sake of integrity in the art form. As much as we love other aspects of the opera's production, faking the translation and essentially lying to well-meaning but uneducated opera goers is not acceptable. What would have been more appreciated is being honest and keeping the translation accurate, even if that shows some confusion about what is occurring on stage, and maybe then it would force an accurate production that more closely matches the storyline which the composer and librettist originally intended. The Met could have still made this production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor' focused in the rust belt with many of the same elements used, but it should have kept certain elements more related to the original opera, such as the text and translation. Or, perhaps, the Met should have been honest and completely changed the Italian words to something different, which, in essence, is what they did to fit the narrative of storyline that Simon Stone wanted to produce, except they weren't being honest about it. The audience would have appreciated this production more if the Met was honest and open about changing the meaning of the text rather and having the singers learn a different text than what the original librettist intended, instead of trying to fake and hide behind an absurd translation. This grievous opera sin was overlooked by most new, young audience members and therefore wasn't an issue to their overall experience, however, it is not so easily forgiven by seasoned opera lovers who yearn for honesty and some basic level of respect for the original librettist. We hope this translation issue can be resolved for future performances, as otherwise, is a fantastic production.
A Perfect Marriage of Bel Canto Tradition & Modern Staging
For bel canto lovers who crave masterful singing and beautifully spun phrases, this opera was sure to please, in particular with the incomparable Nadine Sierra in the leading role of Lucia, who has inarguably secured her title as the world's greatest Lucia on the international opera stage today. Proven time and time again, her passion for bel canto is evident in her skill, expertise, and integrity as she accurately maintains tradition in bel canto while also giving unique artistry and her own individual flair to the arias. For instance, Nadine kept 'Regnava nel silenzio' straight-forward and accurate to bel canto tradition which as an audience we expect and desire, while giving audience members a beautifully artistic rendition later in the mad scene, all while staying in line with what Italian audience members would expect to hear in a production at Teatro alla Scala. It was the best of both worlds- beautiful bel canto singing and modern staging with a production that harmonizes beautifully. That is, minus the translation issues stated earlier.
While traditional bel canto technique was maintained, there was modern staging and costumes, of which greatly appealed to a new, young audience, in particular urban blacks and latinos. One young and urban afro-latino stated, "What brand is the coat Nadine Sierra is wearing? I think I've recognized it somewhere, very cool, I really like it." The urban-influenced costumes really intrigued the young audience members attending, and it drew a conversation around the topic of opera costumes, which would normally never even exist among urban circles. It started a conversation in opera- which is huge in drawing in new audiences who would otherwise never even have exposure to the art form.
A New & Young, Urban Audience
In an overwhelmingly positive reaction, urban youth praised the new production, and all of those in attendance whom we interviewed said they would definitely attend another opera performance again. In what might seem to be a highly specialized and elite musical genre, is now welcoming new urban youth with open arms in this new production, of which is commendable and to be applauded. The way of sustaining opera for future generations is to be make it more relatable to the youth, which involves new productions and adaptations, and educating at the opera house and in schools and colleges. It truly takes a village and a multi-faceted approach if we are going to pass down opera to the next generation, and beyond to our children's children. In a society where attending public schools and universities are the norm, these institutions must develop a more thorough education that includes the high arts such as opera rather than dumbing down an education assuming that youth would not be interested in opera if they were exposed to it. On the contrary, our experience has proven that if youth are exposed to opera in a relatable and exciting way, and can have a meaningful and open discussion with someone educated in opera, they are very interested in it and fall in love with the art form.
The way to grow young opera audiences is to market to the urban youth demographic and try new and innovative ways to relate, such as Simon Stone's newest production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor,' as well as form a more thorough educational approach in our schools, universities, and even at the opera house itself. By providing more access to education and development, the Metropolitan Opera and others could grow their audiences faster and fill up the seats in their theaters. While it is extremely unfair to state the Met was a half-full theater without fully explaining the reasons why (vaccine and mask requirements as well as other major mishaps), it is true that the Met was indeed half-full and could be filled up easily with schools and university students if it was a requirement to obtain credits to pass their classes, as many other performances and sporting events are required attendance in these institutions to obtain necessary credits to pass. Not only would it fill up the theater, but it would provide crucial exposure to opera as an art form to youth, and start a meaningful conversation with teachers who could help spark their interest and also teach them the meaning behind the operas, just as there are English classes in which teachers explain the meaning behind the plots in novels and literary masterworks. These innovative ideas are what the Metropolitan Opera desperately needs, and it is this out-of-the-box thinking that is going to save the opera industry at large in America, who relies primarily upon private funding and public attendance and support, versus in Europe where they receive complete government funding for their opera houses and music institutions.
Technique, Passion, & Artistry
As for the opera's talented cast, technique, passion, and artistry was generously offered to the audience. The star of the show was Nadine Sierra, unsurprisingly, with her unparalleled technique. In particular, her trills are too often overlooked by uneducated reviewers with no understanding of traditional bel canto technique, of which we have to note and applaud her for her accurate trills in her performance of 'Lucia di Lammermoor.' Her staccato notes paired beautifully with the glass harmonica played by Friedrich Heinrich Kern, who were completely in sync with one another and was stunning to hear such accuracy and attention to detail.
In addition, her impeccable coloratura passages matched her beautifully spun high notes and long phrases and her unbelievable breath support, of which audience members wondered how much longer she could keep a phrase going before taking another breath.
Nadine displayed absolutely stunning bel canto technique and artistry, matched with expressions and acting which accurately depicted a mad Lucia- from an exuberant, joyful bride to a rageful, irrational murderer who had completely lost her mind and was out of touch with reality, and the transition between.
In Nadine Sierra's exquisite portrayal, the audience could see a seamless transition and vast array of emotions Lucia was experiencing, a feat extremely difficult to achieve even amongst the most seasoned of actors. There was a clear display of facial expressions by Nadine Sierra in her characterization of Lucia, which was evident and appreciated by the audience who gave her a standing ovation and long applause. In particular, the audience cheered loudest for Nadine Sierra when she made her curtain call at the end of the opera.
Despite what the New York Times and others predicted, we attended several of the performances including opening night, and there were no boos or public displays of disapproval, which goes to show the deep dedication and appreciation the audience had for all the artists involved in this outstanding production. This was proven in the countless video streams on social media where not a single boo was heard, only a long and roaring applause, cheers from the audience, and ending with a standing ovation to show their complete admiration and support.
Nadine Sierra is certainly the artist on today's opera stages who can garner support among young audiences, with her youthful, beautiful appearance, her outstanding acting abilities, and her knack for adapting to modern productions. Not all artists can climb up a tall ladder in high heels and move about the stage like a nimble gymnast as Nadine can, all while making it look easy and do so time and time again for each performance. Bel canto is extremely demanding, and Nadine has proven that she can not only handle achieving the level of vocal excellence needed for bel canto roles, but in addition, she can handle the most difficult of modern staging and do it flawlessly.
What makes Nadine unique is her willingness to try new things be a very supportive colleague and participant, of which is not easy to find in the opera industry, where one might find great voices but also unfortunately find diva personalities. Nadine Sierra is not only a very talented, skilled artist, but she is also very humble and willing to try new, innovative concepts and outside-the-box productions. What more could a modern opera company like the Met desire?
Another outstanding artist, Artur Ruciński, offered a lusciously full voice of strength and vigor, with handsomely sung legato lines and an equally matched acting prowess- a perfect fit for the role of Enrico. Artur had the look of a modern Enrico, dressed in a suit matched with a tattooed chest, neck, and face. The Met's daring move to push the boundaries of what is considered traditionally accepted in opera, has certainly paid off in 'Lucia di Lammermoor.' Not only did Artur sing the part of Enrico, but he fit the image of what we would imagine a modern Enrico to be, and really helped the audience picture the opera taking place in the rust belt. Traditional? No. But exciting and appropriate for the setting and storyline, nonetheless.
Bravo to Artur Ruciński on a fantastically sung Enrico as well adapting to modern staging, even at one point jumping down from on top of a car and sticking his landing without flaw. Not all artists can do well with such demanding modern staging elements, and he did so with ease and perfection- a tremendous feat.
Matthew Rose performed the role of Raimondo with ease and his facial expressions and acting truly captured the intense reaction of Lucia's murderous act. The audience could tell the level of disgust on his face as well as the sympathy he had for Lucia's state of mind. That is exactly what you expect in the character of a clergyman- a hatred of sin but sympathy and forgiveness towards the sinner. What a riveting portrayal of Raimondo by Matthew Rose, who was extremely well-matched for the role.
Javier Camarena was a clear audience favorite, getting tremendous applause for his role of Edgardo, with very warm reception and many shouting a loud 'Bravo!' Being one of the top opera stars, Javier Camarena is used to being adored and favored by fans, but it was nice to see his big heart being poured out upon the opera stage, reaching his arms out to the audience and being so generous and appreciative. You could tell the amount of work and preparation Javier made in all of the staging concepts he had to achieve, and he was well-matched with the beautiful Nadine Sierra. We appreciated the Met using latino opera singers in these main roles coupled together, which was absolutely beautiful and a win for more minority voices being predominately used in opera. It was also more relatable for young, urban audiences, who recognize a part of themselves in these characters because they resemble more closely than perhaps a traditional average white cast would. It was a successful move on the Met's part, and it was a delightful change to see in opera's culture. We thought Camarena's modern costumes and his build were very relatable and well-suited for the role of Edgardo in this adaptation, and we appreciated the pairing of Nadine and Javier together. This production with these unique characters show that love comes in all shapes, sizes, races, and colors. Bravo to the Met for this decision and promoting love and acceptance of all. Bravi tutti!
The other stand-outs were Eric Ferring as Arturo and Deborah Nansteel as Alisa.
Eric Ferring displayed a beautiful, natural sound with warmth and delicacy when needed, and
Deborah Nansteel, with a large resonant instrument, projected her luscious sound to the back of the Met's theater with tremendous ease and extraordinary power. Not to be un-noted, the accuracy of her timing during the famous aria, "Regnava nel silenzio" was a rarity and to be praised. Many mezzos unfortunately are very late in their entrance and they get quite behind, but Deborah Nansteel handled her large instrument with great flexibility and accuracy. This passion for proper technique and integrity to the art, was also no doubt the work of Riccardo Frizza, who led the orchestra and outstanding singers to bel canto perfection. The orchestra was exact in their placement of staccati and you could hear the strings crescendo with a delicacy and beauty that one would expect to hear in Donizetti's masterpiece. Absolutely stunning.
A Resounding Success
The cast and artists involved did an outstanding job, and they should all be very proud of the hard work and effort they put in to making this production. The audience went wild in applause showing their adulation for the cast as well as the production itself. The people have spoken- the Met's newest production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor' was a resounding success.
Congratulations on a fantastic 'Lucia di Lammermoor' and we look forward to future performances with these brilliant artists and creatives.