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[whitespace] Presence and Persona

Jennifer der Torrosian and Bay Shore Lyric Opera deliver a powerful 'Lucia di Lammermoor'

By Scott MacClelland

NOT ONLY does Capitola's Bay Shore Lyric Opera finally break out of the regional recycling of operatic warhorses with its new production of Lucia di Lammermoor, but it sets a new high-water mark for opera in the Monterey Bay area. As juicy and tempting as Carmen, La Traviata, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly may be, even veteran opera fans weary at seeing them over and over to the exclusion of other repertoire.

With Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia, Bayshore has abruptly and successfully breached the barricade and penetrated the immediate predecessor of "modern" Italian opera, the emotion-driven template that would flower fully in the works of Verdi and extend ultimately to Puccini.

While the Bayshore production handsomely balances all the elements, the focus rightly goes to the cast of principals and the fine orchestra that supports them. In last Sunday's performance, Jennifer der Torrosian gave the title role an intense stage presence and dramatic persona. And lest there be any doubt as to her vocal prowess, her third-act mad scene easily anoints her "La coloratura assoluta di Capitola."

Indeed, der Torrosian has learned remarkably well the lessons of her mentor, Licia Albanese, while at the same time developing power sufficient to fill the big houses. Between her assured and glittering melismas, she fired off high notes that, had she been outdoors, could easily have been heard on the beach a block away. One wonders, How long can Capitola contain her?

As her secretly betrothed Edgardo, Jorge Gomez delivered on a more intimate scale but with excellent expressive range. Though his countenance lacked the theatricality of der Torrosian's, he successfully put the emotion on the voice. Topped with a savory ping, this was a tenor one could easily listen to for hours.

As Lucia's desperate and manipulative brother Enrico, Gary Sorenson steadily built a villainous character and solid baritone production, though early-on his high notes went on the vocal chords without adequate abdominal support, not only a dangerous practice but one resulting in an unattractive sound.

Basso Eric Coyne gave Raimondo authority and integrity. His relatively wide vibrato was consistent, distinctive and particularly effective in his role of elder tutor to the youthful Lucia and voice of reason in the face of violent confrontation.

First onstage, Bill Welch set things in motion as Normanno, scheming captain of Enrico's guard. Liliane Cromer appeared as Lucia's confidant Alisia. Andrew Carter was Arturo, the forced bridegroom of Lucia who dies at her delusionary hand on their wedding night.

Camille Couture's chorus of 14 all but overwhelmed the petite stage, which, by sleight of hand, was maximized by Rick Stroup's sets and Anthony Crawley's lighting. Efficient and effective stage direction came from Gregory Jon Harbert and Jun Nakabayashi, who conducted the orchestra in similar fashion. The 27-piece ensemble, including many top Santa Cruz-area musicians, kept a keen momentum, which gave the nearly three-hour performance an exhilarating fleetness. Nevertheless, Nakabayashi slowed the pace for the big arias, duets and ensembles, giving generous space to Donizetti's splendid melodies and gloriously indulgent bel canto displays.

Producer Papken der Torrosian expressed pride in the quality of the company's productions, especially as it has attracted growing audiences, enthusiastic notices and increasing foundation support. It comes at a daunting price, however. This production alone costs nearly $100,000 (half of which goes to the orchestra). Der Torrosian spoke to the point in brief words from the stage, reminding patrons of the discrepancy between the price of a ticket and the actual cost of a seat. But, as a successful entrepreneur, he understands with perfect clarity that quality comes first. At Bay Shore Lyric Opera, so far so good, and getting better.

Lucia di Lammermoor plays April 14, 21, 28-29 and May 6 at the Capitola Theater for the Performing Arts, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. Call 462.3131 for ticket information.

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From the April 11-18, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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