Behind the scene of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Opera de Oviedo

Federica Fanizza interviewed for Operafashion the stage director Nicola Berloffa and the costume designer Justin Arienti who illustrated the idea behind Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on stage at the Opera de Oviedo.

Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, a co-production of the Opera de Oviedo, Teatro Colon de Buenos Aires and Tenerife Opera, is under way these days. An all-Italian project by Nicola Berloffa – a young director who has worked in many European theatres, trained at the school of Luca Ronconi – with scenes and costumes by Justin Arienti, lighting by Valerio Tiberi, musical direction by Giacomo Sagripanti.

The leading singers of the main cast are the soprano Jessica Pratt (Lucia) and the tenor Celso Abelo (Edgardo), supported by artists trained in the world of Spanish opera, such as the bass Simon Orfila (Raimondo Bidebent), Albert Casals (Lord Arturo Buklaw), María José Suárez (Alisa) and Moisés Marín (Norman). The musical part of the opera is always wonderfully enhanced when the protagonists are the likes of Pratt and Abelo, who support the art of Belcanto in well-established roles (for Pratt it was her Lucia 101!).

The visuals of this production are very interesting from a technical point of view and for the several references to Anglo-Saxon culture. If the singers give voice and soul to the notes and verses of the libretto, the director and set designer create the space where the artists move and express their emotions by singing, thus bringing their characters to life.

Nicola Berloffa places Lucia in a very specific space and time: Scotland in the late 1940s, in an aristocratic residence with the traditional set of rooms plainly  furnished, which give away nothing of what happens within its walls. “Family drama in an interior” could be the subtitle. The director wants to take the audience to Great Britain at the time of George VI, just after World War, a victorious country which had to struggle with rationing and social reconstruction. Lucia and her brother Enrico Ashton have to deal with the loss of their position in high society and only an arranged marriage can help them recover the prestige lost. Nicola Berloffa makes no secret of his cultural references – English cinema of those years, black and white films by David Lean, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Carol Reed, Compton Bennett; films mixing noir and drama with a wink to Alfred Hitchcock of the late 1930s (Under Capricorn in 1937 and Rebecca was released in 1940). Hitchcock is the most relevant reference for the setting,  mystery and madness happening in the English countryside; the young director has translated this atmosphere into a play of projected shadows, alternating light and darkness, thanks to the help of the lighting expert Valerio Tiberi. There is no trace of sickness in the Lucia by Berloffa: she’s just trying to escape from anguish and solitude. The first act is set not in the traditional park of Ravenswood Castle but indoors, where the ghosts of the fatal fonte, evoked and imagined by Lucia, are projections of herself in an oppressively solitary space. 

The 1940s setting and the costumes have been designed by researching what was common and ordinary at the the time. As the set and costume designer Justin Arienti explained, research included photos of those years, reproductions of women’s formal dresses – especially those displayed at the Bath Fashion Museum – and costumes seen on the silver screen. For Lucia‘s scene, the references “can be Hampton Court or Highclere Castle, to name just two,” Arienti points out. “But since I’ve been living in London for almost twenty years, references can be found in many hidden corners behind the big facades of palaces, clubs and houses. The facades of the museums in South Kensington, London at the time of air raids, servants’ stairs at the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Cinema references also include films by James Ivory and Robert Altman’s Gosford Park“. This mood is expressed at its best in the “scene of madness”: Lucia-Jessica Pratt acts in a whirlwind of rooms (on a rotating platform), thus emphasizing the concept of escape, while the spechless witnesses are led to the crime chamber.

Costumes too are defined by the austerity of the time: a simple red dress for Lucia; plain and austere wedding dress for the contract scene; a simple white dressing gown for the scene of madness. Arienti’s research has also focused on costumes of the supporting cast, including formal clothing for the wedding, chaste women’s party dresses, simple decorations and prim necklines, in perfect 1940s fashion.

Scketch by Justin Arienti

“When it comes for Lucia’s costumes, the inspiration follows three separate ways: the Scottish identity and its iconography; the collapse of the great dynasties, forced to change their lifestyle; the clothing rationing imposed by the British government during the war. That decade was certainly a sad period for British fashion and traditions, but also an extraordinary moment for the ability to adapt, for the sense of unity and innovation. After years of pseudo-dictatorship in fashion with the introduction of utility clothing, the British had a very creative period from the 1960s to the 1980s, when they launched trends all over Europe “. 

Three outfits from the 1942. Designs by Victor Stiebel, Elspeth Champcommunal and Edward Molyneux.

The overall image is always simple and characterises women’s evening dresses and men’s tailcoats. But the attention of Arienti has also focused on the use of Scottish kilt as a party attire for Lucia’s clan. These costumes have been made according to a precise protocol of Scottish tartans: original fabrics have been researched and the rigid set of rules for the use of accessories and the positioning of shawls and headwear has been followed. The tartans chosen for this opera are mostly blues and browns from the Highlands: they have had the important function of darkening the wedding scene. In this case, Edgardo, who’s wearing a simple suit, plays the role of the intruder among people wearing traditional clothes.

The result has been a production of Lucia di Lammermoor easy to watch and to listen to, where everything flows as in a single long sequence of frames.

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