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This fall, the Metropolitan Opera opened with Lucia di Lammermoor, the first of two new Donizetti productions at the Met this season designed to showcased the unique talents of the French coloratura soprano, Natalie Dessay. (Next spring, she headlines a La fille du regiment.) To say that Dessay, a petite, wide-eyed gamin beauty from Lyons, has captured the imagination of New Yorkers is an understatement: photographs of her were everywhere this fall, from patrons' tickets and the the cover of the house magazine to billboards and the sides of buses.


A few years ago, Dessay underwent a series of widely publicized operations on her vocal chords. While these procedures proved successful, her voice did lose a few of those freakish stratospheric high notes that initially launched her career and with which she once circled the globe. But a warmer, slightly darker quality emerged in her voice, which opened up a complete new repertoire for her. After singing the high-lying coloratura roles such as Offenbach's Olympia, Strauss's Zerbinetta and Mozart's Queen of the Night, Dessay has moved increasingly to weightier roles such as Massenet's Manon, Bellini's Amina (La sonnambula) and Donizetti's Lucia.

Given her vocal range, flawless technique and theatrical prowess, Dessay's first Met Lucia, which opened the season on Sept. 24, did not disappoint. In fact, her portrayal was as complete and full-blooded as one could expect of such an artificial role. And while her descent into madness ignited her impressive arsenal of vocal pyrotechnics, more affecting lines were sung with expressive, limpid beauty. As Edgardo, Lucia's ill-fated lover, Marcello Giordani gave one of the most committed and intense performances I have heard from this fine tenor. The handsome young Polish baritone, Mariusz Kwiecien, however, as Lord Enrico Ashton, Lucia's down-at-heel brother, scored a more moderate success, while bass-baritone John Relyea turned in another of his sonorous, but increasingly generic, portrayals as Lucia's tutor, Raimondo. Mention should also be made of the eerie glass-harmonica solo played by Cecilia Brauer, which, replaced the more familiar flute solo in the Mad Scene.

Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman updated her production to the 17th from the 17th century. With brooding, atmospheric sets by Daniel Ostling (inspired by actual Scottish settings) and Mara Blumenfeld's stylish, but buttoned-up, Victorian costumes, this Lucia had all the trappings of a Gothic novel. Zimmerman's conception of the opera also had many felicitous touches. After the hysteria of Lucia's show-stopping Mad Scene, for instance, Edgardo's concluding scene at the tomb can often feel anticlimactic and disconnected. In Zimmerman's production, Lucia reappears as a spectre and aids Edgardo's suicide by helping him thrust the dagger into his breast. Edgardo then dies cradled in her arms, creating a much more potent final tableau than usual.--Neil Crory

New York City Opera's Don Giovanni (Sept. 25) proved a generally pleasing rather than scintillating or enlightening evening. The production, credited to Broadway veteran Harold Prince and revived with reasonable aplomb by Albert Sherman, at least gives some semblance of Spain and nature, unlike the Met's current horror show staged by Marthe Keller. A few too many sizes of fake moon make themselves evident, and due to a lighting mistake, the statue of the Commendatore made a premature appearance. The living statue's costume, worn with dignity by the quite solid bass, Daniel Borowski, is a high point of Rolf Langenfoss's costumes; the low point must be the hideous dresses Anna and Elvira sport in the party scene, straight out of a bus-and-truck production of Man of La Mancha.

Daniel Wroe put no particular stamp on the performance from the pit; some singers observed appoggiature and ornamented, and some did not.


Three company debutants made equivocal impressions. …


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