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February 25, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 25, 2005

When love and hate meet When love and hate meet (February 25, 2005)

West Bay Opera stages "Lucia di Lammermoor"

By Mari Sapina-Kerkhove

In 1983, West Bay Opera staged its first production of Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," a tragedy about a love doomed to fail.

This week, the opera house approaches "Lucia" yet again, tackling the three-act piece often considered one of Donizetti's most passionate works. Based on Sir Walter Scott's "The Bride of Lammermoor," the opera is set against the political conflict between Tories and Whigs in 17th-century Scotland.

Enrico Ashton, a prominent Whig lawyer, plans a politically advantageous marriage for his sister, Lucia. But Lucia is already secretly engaged to her family's enemy, young Edgardo Ravenswood. Succumbing to her brother's pressure, she eventually agrees to a marriage with the wealthy Arturo Bucklaw, but her deep inner conflict ultimately drives her to insanity and death.

While the plot may evoke parallels to "Romeo and Juliet," stage director David Ostwald said there is a major difference -- while those lovers were immune to their families' rivalry, Lucia and Edgardo are deeply torn by it.

"What I think is really interesting about Lucia is that it is a piece that explores what happens when love and hate meet," he said.

The inner struggle between heart and mind is a theme woven through the entire piece, Ostwald said, with each character divided between their love for Lucia and the family's economic welfare.

Translating that conflict to the set, Ostwald uses a large rocky wedge as the stage's centerpiece. Brought into play in a number of configurations, the piece partly represents the barren landscape of the Scottish Highlands, but most of all, the wedge that has been driven between the two lovers, he said.

"The set is totally abstract and very evocative," Ostwald said.

Ostwald added that the vast talent pool of performers is a perfect match for the bel canto ("beautiful singing") opera, which is characterized by its richness of melody.

"The audience will get a chance to really get into the inside these characters, heart to mind," Ostwald said -- especially the challenging role of Lucia (famously interpreted by Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland in the past), which requires a vast vocal range.

Tackling the role in West Bay Opera's production is Marnie Breckenridge, who starred as Corilla in West Bay Opera's fall 2003 production of "Viva la Mamma." The soprano has performed in some of the nation's major opera houses, including the role of Papagena in San Francisco Opera's "Die Zauberflote."

Double-casting the role with Breckenridge is Saundra DeAthos, a newcomer to West Bay Opera with extensive experience, including the San Francisco Opera, the Virginia Opera and the Boston Lyric Opera.

What makes the opera's music stand out, according to music director David Sloss, is that it covers a huge emotional range, portraying love scenes, fighting episodes and even a storm.

"It is full of absolutely wonderful melodies," Sloss said. "This is an opera you will walk out whistling."

A scene considered especially difficult is the 20-minute-long "mad scene," in which a hallucinating Lucia oscillates between elation and despair.

Breckenridge said the scene is one of her favorites in the piece, even though it portrays pure tragedy.

"I feel so sorry for Lucia, she's such a sad character," she said. "She does not get her love in the end and ... as a woman I can kind of identify with how that must have felt back in her time period."

Among other favorites is "Verrano a te sull'aure," the duet between Lucia and Edgardo.

"I love the music, I just think it's so breathtakingly beautiful," Breckenridge said.

The male leads include Jordan Shanahan (Enrico Ashton), who debuted as Figaro in West Bay Opera's "The Barber of Seville" last season, as well as Christopher Bengochea and Harold Gray Meers (double cast as Edgardo). Both have significant experience in opera houses across the country.

What: "Lucia di Lammermoor," presented by West Bay Opera. Gaetano Donizetti's classic bel canto tale will be presented in Italian with English supertitles. Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto When: Feb. 25-26 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. Cost: Tickets are $46, ($23 for youth under 17 or student with valid ID). Call: 424-9999, Monday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. or visit Tickets may also be purchased at the Holt Building, 221 Lambert Ave. in Palo Alto.

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