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In Production: Lucia di Lammermoor

In Production is an occasional series from the members of the Hub Opera Ensemble that offers the interested reader a glimpse into the process of putting together an opera production.  Our current installment is by Lucia herself, soprano Caitlin Budny, who offers us a look into what goes into crafting a mad scene, and what it's like to wave a bloody knife around on stage.

To say that singing Lucia is a "dream come true" would be an understatement.  I've been waiting to sing this role for years!

When I was in college, I started out as a musical theatre major who dabbled in opera.  I had been acting for years, and being a bookworm to boot, I always loved literature.  Studying characters was what I was truly passionate about, so I never would have thought that I'd be an opera singer today.  Solely out of ignorance, I believed that opera was a "park and bark" art form in which the story became secondary to the music.

When I saw the famous mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, it changed my entire perspective.  Donizetti wrote this scene with such care and expertise that Lucia's delusions and emotions are perfectly mapped out in the music.  For coloratura sopranos, it's the "holy grail" of roles, and it's among the most demanding.  For roughly fifteen minutes, the soprano must believably move in and out of reality, while handling the vocal pyrotechnics of the scene with precision.  The acting and music are equally important here; both elements are essential.  Without one of those elements, the piece will fail.

No pressure...right?!

This is the toughest role I have sung to date, and I realize that it's a challenge.  However, it is such a thrill to do this that I don't feel any pressure, and I'm not nervous at all.  I'm just excited about having the opportunity to sing my dream role!  I've been working on the music for a couple of months now, and we just started staging the mad scene this weekend.

Our director Lindsay Gentry and I both were excited that we shared similar perspectives on the piece.  A lot of sopranos have the tendency to "play crazy" in this scene, instead of focusing on the text and Donizetti's music.  They shudder violently, wield bloody knives at innocent onlookers, and scream "bloody murder."  While this may catch the audience's attention, Lindsay and I want to make sure that the scene is believable.  After all, Lucia is a seventeen year old girl.  Just like any other teenage girl, she has strong emotions.  She endures a chain of painful events: her parents die and she's in a forbidden romance with her family's enemy.  Her brother forces her into an arranged marriage, and she loses her first love.  In her mind, her life is hopeless, and she sees murdering her husband as her only escape from this fate.  Following the murder Lucia shuts down, avoids reality, and retreats into her own fantasy world, where the pain disappears.

Essentially, I don't want to create a "crazy girl who belongs in a strait jacket."  In a sense, her retreat into her own fantasy world is something that we all do as human beings at some point.  As children, we loved to believe that we'd grow up to be princesses and superheroes.  We emulate our parents and "play house," run around in superhero capes, and play "dress up."  If adults are faced with a death of a loved one, some will occasionally go through a stage of denial.  Others will attempt to busy themselves with other activities to avoid the pain.  We've all retreated into our own fantasy worlds at some point.  Now, Lucia's fantasy world is certainly heightened (and let's not forget that it involves a murder too!), but when those factors are realized, it becomes much easier to relate to her as a character.  Now it is possible to see her as a teenage girl with strong emotions that lead her astray, rather than a frenetic murderess who belongs in a mental hospital.  After all, as the Cheshire Cat says in Alice in Wonderland: "We're all mad here!"

Don't worry, though!  There will still be plenty of high notes, cadenzas, a bloody wedding dress, a blood-stained knife, and a not-so-typical end to this mad scene.  I just can't give that one away! :)

I can't wait for the next few rehearsals!  Everyone sounds fantastic, and we're really excited to do this opera for you.  See you at the show!