After San Francisco Opera opened its 2015-16 season with “Luisa Miller,” in which a meddlesome man interferes with the happiness of his relative, and proceeded to the musical thriller “Sweeney Todd,” which is, to say the least, quite bloody, perhaps it was looking to make the logical progression to an opera that combined both elements and threw in, say, madness, for good measure. If so, the company could not have come up with a better choice than Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
Lucia is the soon-to-be-mad character in question, and the title role was portrayed by soprano Nadine Sierra (who replaced Diana Damrau, who withdrew from the production to remain on vocal rest) in San Francisco Opera’s new, compelling production.
At Thursday night’s opening, Sierra had a clear, technically assured voice, even if it was on the small side. But dramatic prowess, and especially the ability to set the right mood, are just as essential to pull off the role of Lucia, which Sierra did with aplomb, most notably in her showpiece Act 3 mad scene, with meandering and facial expressions convincingly expressing her mental derangement.
Tenor Piotr Beczala was an ardent, vocally powerful Edgardo, who is Lucia’s lover, much to the regret of just about everyone else in the cast. Beczala’s beautifully plangent voice was most effective in Edgardo’s moving final aria, “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali.” He also displayed dramatic flair, especially in duets with Sierra. The pair had a naturally warm chemistry, and, with the opera’s four other principals, were in resplendent sync in Act 2’s great sextet.
Baritone Brian Mulligan was vigorous and vocally commanding as Lucia’s brother, Enrico, a character determined to steer his sister away from despised rival Edgardo into an arranged marriage that will financially and politically benefit him. Mulligan’s emphatic voice and domineering dramatics make it clear that this is Enrico’s world and everyone else just lives in it, especially in his vengeful Act 1 cabaletta, “La pietade in suo favor.”
Bass-baritone Nicolas Teste had the vocal depth and strong stage presence to make for an excellent Raimondo, a Calvinist chaplain and Lucia’s tutor. Tenor AJ Glueckert as Enrico’s retainer Normanno, mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede as Lucia’s companion Alisa, and tenor Chong Wang as Lucia’s forced-wedding husband Arturo all gave solid performances, as did Ian Robertson’s Opera Chorus.
Director Michael Cavanagh staged the Sir Walter Scott story on which the opera is based in a modern-mythic Scotland, employing the sepulchral coldness of a banked marble-colored set. Erhard Rom’s video projections of mist-shrouded highlands and roiling coastal waters reinforced the gray mood.
Conductor Nicola Luisotti energetically drew richly detailed and colorful playing from the orchestra.
Lucia di Lammermoor
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.,
When: 2 p.m. Oct. 11; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, Oct. 16, Oct. 21, Oct. 24, Oct. 28
Tickets: $26 to $381
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com