Review: Opera Cleveland @ PHS State Theatre 5/20/10

Opera Cleveland’s modernized production of Donizetti’s over-the-top “Lucia di Lammermoor” shone brightly opening night. Based on a Scottish feud story by Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, etc.), one of the most popular writers of his age (and well into the 20th-century), it’s Romeo and Juliet all over again, only this time the doomed lovers are part of mob families a la 1930s gangster films.

The opera ramps things up visually with film projections across the set that flow and enrich it. It’s a silly story, but the cast makes one ignore that. Nili Riemer’s adorable and mellifluous Lucia is, by turns, a ditz and a crazy girl. Riemer’s warbling soprano (often matching Sean Gabriel’s crisply trilling flute note for note) seemingly never falters as she hits one impossibly high note after another. The rest of the cast and the ensemble chorus also showed range and command. One might question how a white dress could emerge completely unstained after a blood bath, but maybe on closing night (alas too soon, May 23) things will be different.

One must admire the frugality and the cleverness with which Opera Cleveland has learned to operate. With a winning cast, beautiful ghost, pistols, and bloody daggers all artfully arranged, director Tomer Zvulun, set designer Erhard Rom, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, and artistic director (and conductor) Dean Williamson created a mighty and entertaining evening of opera.

Laura Kennelly is a freelance arts journalist, a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, and an associate editor of BACH, a scholarly journal devoted to J. S. Bach and his circle.

Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.

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