The mad scene in Donizetti’s opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” helped Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Nellie Melba soar to stardom. This weekend at Winter Opera, St. Louis soprano Gina Galati will sing the title role with its famous aria "Il dolce suono.”
“Lucia” opens Friday evening at 8 p.m. at Chaminade’s Skip Viragh Center for the Arts, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd., and will also be presented at 3 p.m. March 9.
Galati has sung soprano roles extensively in Italy and across the U.S. She is founder and artistic director of Winter Opera, which is now in its seventh and most successful season.
The opera was written in 1835 when Donizetti and his bel canto style were at its height. Winter Opera is setting it around 1900, Galati said.
Costumes will be about the time of “Downton Abbey’s” first season, Galati said. Making that look come alive will be stage director Dan Rigazzi, who has worked at the Metropolitan Opera and Houston Grand Opera, and costume designer J.C. Krajicek, who has worked with Opera Theatre St. Louis.
Salvadore Cammarano, who wrote the opera’s libretto, based his work on Sir Walter Scott’s “Bride of Lama moor.” Scott had based his novel on a true story that tore apart the Scottish Dalrymple family of the Lammermuire Hills. In Cammarano’s hands, the brother became the villain and the drama increased.
All three versions of the story are set a world of arranged marriages between dynasties often for commercial and power-grabbing interests. As with “Romeo and Juliet,” this is a story of a man and woman from rival families secretly falling in love and trying to fulfill their promise to each other to marry.
In the opera, Lucia’s brother Enrico, the lord of Lammermoor, wants to increase his political power and fortune by marrying his sister off to the well-connected Arturo Bucklaw. She has been secretly meeting her brother’s rival, Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood. Enrico has already taken over Edgardo’s lands and wants more.
Scott Loebl’s set will be Scottish but minimal. Rigazzi said he wanted to focus more on the drama: “We don’t need elaborate sets for this opera.”
“Lucia is a very dramatic opera,” Galati said on her day off from rehearsal last week. She’s never sung the role for an audience and is looking forward to it.
Several years ago she was the Lucia cover (opera lingo for understudy) at Opera Naples in Florida. While she didn’t go on stage for performances, Galati sang the role for a few weeks at rehearsals until the soprano in the role finished another gig.
“It is a big role,” Galati said. “Lucia is in four big scenes.”
Last summer while giving concerts in Italy, she worked with several Italian music directors on various Lucia arias. All were helpful and shared their ideas about this beloved tragedy.
“I wanted to work out the repertory,” she said. She also prepared by reading Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel.
Baritone Nelson Martinez sings the brother. Tenor Cooper Nolan sings the romantic Edgardo. Dustin Peterson sings Bucklaw.
Timothy J. Bruno signs Raimondo Bidebent, a Scottish Presbyterian chaplain. Claudia Chapa sings Alisa, Lucia’s maid, Marc Schapman sings Normanno, a hunter who works for Enrico.
The tension between brother and sister over her martial destiny and the fear of losing the man she loves leads to no good end but much beautiful music. There is room in the bel canto style for the soprano and others to add many flourishes. Recordings of Sutherland and Callas in the Lucia role show they added many notes to the mad scene. That scene and the fact that the opera’s sextet is often chosen for recitals have helped it maintain popularity.
“Lucia” is Winter Opera’s third and final production of this season. Growth has continued steadily, despite icy February weather for its second production, “Falstaff,” Galati said.
“People now seem to know that we are reliable, that they are going to see a quality production,” she said.
Steven Jarvi, the company music director for two seasons, became the St. Louis Symphony’s resident conductor last fall. When symphony-goers hear the work he does, the opera company’s steadily growing reputation is helped.
The company has also been aided in that Nancy Pillsbury Shirley has sponsored this year’s productions.
“Nancy is excited,” Galati said, noting that “even with sponsors, we still have to raise more money at the end of the season to pay our bills.”
Winter Opera has a small income stream from voice teachers renting their new rehearsal hall’s studios on The Hill. And this summer Winter Opera will sponsor a musical theatre and acting camp for youth at the rehearsal site.
Galati’s immediate focus this spring and summer will be to increase and strengthen the Winter Opera board and development efforts she said. The company budget jumped to $285,000 from just under $200,000 in two years. That puts the nonprofit organization in a new category and requires more board work and accountant’s time.
Winter Opera has had no problems getting good singers and directors, she said. Some cast are friends, or friends of friends and most end up friends by the end of the production and want to return again, she said.
“I think because I am a singer, I know what singers need, what they like, and it helps,” she said. “It is important to treat artists well. They appreciate that we have nice accommodations for them (in hospitable St. Louisans’ homes) and that we are a nice company that respects the artists.”
She said some singers are drawn to the shorter time commitment needed at Winter Opera with just one weekend of performances. Plus, “singers say we are a really cool place. We are just praying for good weather next weekend,” she said.
No matter the weather this weekend, in rehearsals last week the “cool” Winter Opera warmed up to present the fiery tragic drama “Lucia di Lammermoor.”