Review: Mad about ‘Lucia,’ and Natalie Dessay

Opera’s myriad components all must click to deliver the promise of a performance, but to reach the point of exuberant celebration, you need a great star, someone who stops the critical mind, even time itself.

Natalie Dessay’s San Francisco Opera debut in “Lucia di Lammermoor” on Tuesday night provided such an occasion. It also marked a return ofdiva-land to the Pacific: David Gockley has struck gold, providing just within 48 hours the triumphant homeys of Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson in “Ariodante” and then Dessay’s Lucia.

The tiny but athletic French soprano has a fabulous voice, unerring musicality and a startling stage presence — in a good way. The enormous applause that greeted her “Quando rapita in estasi” came not only in proper acknowledgment of the aria, but also as a joyful exclamation of discovery: the diva is in the house.

The soaring voice, dead-on phrasing, bright, penetrating sound were all taken for granted after that introduction, and for almost three hours, Dessay never let the audience down.

Another notable debut was conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce’s first American appearance. Starting a bit uncertainly, he soon came into his own, and propelled an exciting orchestral performance.

Gockley’s other new imports were fine, but certainly not in the Dessay class. The U.S. debut of Gabriele Viviani as Enrico was impressive, in some high points.

Bringing in Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur to sing Alisa was unnecessary; a dozen Adler and Merola artists could have done as good or a better job.

Adler Fellow Andrew Bidlack’s Arturo, on the other hand, sounded a bit thin. Oren Gradus’ Raimondo was solid.

Giuseppe Filianoti, making his San Francisco debut as Edgardo, is a singer of fine middle voice; he is brave, but it’s difficult to listen to him without worrying — the opposite of Dessay, to whom you confidently entrust yourself.

CREDITS

Lucia di Lammermoor

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and July 5; 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 26 and July 2; 2 p.m. June 29

Tickets: $15 to $290

Contact: (415) 864-3330

Note: A free simulcast starts at 8 p.m. June 20 at AT&T Park. Visit www.sfopera.com/giants for details.

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