The Charlotte public surprisingly did not fill all seats of the theater for this show. When I mentioned it to maestro Meena in the after-party, he said, "Oh well, Lucia is not one of the top five most popular operas." It is a pity: patrons don't know what they are missing, because this show has several extremely strong assets.

Singing-wise the night wasn't ideal, for a simple and understandable reason: as I learned later during the champagne toast with the stars after the performance, no fewer than four singers were under the weather with respiratory ailments – according to Ms. Lewek, due to the burst of pollen that has affected our area in the last two days. Even the maestro himself was quite hoarse during his opening announcements. Of course, it didn't affect his performance – his conducting was superb as usual – but it did affect the singers, whose voices sounded a bit thinner than I expected from listening to their clips, with diminished projection. This seems to have hindered Ms. Lewek, Mr. Borichesvsky, Ms. Miller, and Mr. Irmiter. On the other hand, Mr. Hyung and Mr. Stewart appeared to be unaffected by this ailment and sang strongly, with fully resonant voices.

The magnitude of the problem wasn't huge. None of the four affected singers failed to still deliver compelling vocal performances. Particularly good were the colors and the dynamics produced by the leading couple. Colorful, emotional soft singing in the most poignant scenes by these two were very good.

Ms. Lewek revealed in her interview with Opera Lively that she was preparing a full overhaul of the Mad Scene, recovering some traditional coloratura that some of her great predecessors had done in the past, and adding some of her own. It was very effective! She didn't simply repeat the usual notes that the most recent sopranos in this role have been singing, but indeed presented quite different lines that surprised and enchanted me. It needs to also be acknowledged that in spite of singers having respiratory illnesses, the Sextet was very beautifully done, both musically and acting-wise (it's good to *not* have the distraction of that darn photographer in the Met production – the Sextet needs to be staged in the solemn way picked by Mr. Uzan).

The one exception among the seven singing roles was Mr. Rice, who certainly wasn't having a good night in a comprimario role. Mr. Stewart on the other hand is one to be watched, with a fierce and assertive Arturo (no wimp, as we see in some productions). Fortunately, we'll see him again next season (details below). Also to be noticed is that both Ms. Lewek and Ms. Miller are very beautiful ladies (and Mr. Borichevsky is a handsome lad), so the realistic effect was enhanced, and we got a charming couple in the principal roles.

All things considered, singing earns an A- average, with Ms. Lewek deserving an A overall for her daring revamped coloratura, compensating for the first act where she was visibly suffering from the pollen allergy that she quoted, and Mr. Stewart reaching A+ in his short role; others brought the average slightly down due to illness (I initially thought B+ but when I remembered how good the Sextet was, they do get the A-), but I'm sure that once the singers' inflamed instruments heal, they will all reach A+ territory.

Conducting and orchestral playing were phenomenal. Those who follow my North Carolina reviews know very well that James Meena is a great operatic conductor. I thought that tonight he was even better than in previous shows, as hard as it is to improve from his already very high level. As he explained to me, he wanted the Charlotte Symphony to play with delicacy: "This is no Turandot," he said. Mission accomplished, because the orchestra was extremely elegant. Synchrony with the stage was simply perfect at all times. Transitions couldn't be smoother. Pace and dynamics were just right, and the subjective sound quality coming from the pit was a pleasure to hear. In terms of aural beauty, the orchestra tonight sounded as good as the Met's! A++, no doubt. The flute soloist was also very good, partially making up for the fact that we didn't get a glass harmonica (it's hard to come by a classically trained, professional glass harmonica player, these days).

While blocking had some problems with crowding of the relatively small stage space left for the chorus due to the rather voluminous sets in some scenes, and a brief choreographed dance that simply didn't work (I'd just skip it), other elements of stage direction were one of the best assets of this performance.

The vastly experienced Mr. Uzan (about to complete his 400th production) explained to me that he wanted Lucia to interact with the other characters during the Mad Scene. She did (for example, at one point she drags her brother to the floor with her and tries to kiss him in the mouth), and it added enormous pathos and depth to the scene. In terms of acting, this was one of the best Mad Scenes I've ever seen – and this includes Natalie Dessay's and Anna Netrebko's! It is a pity that this performance wasn't filmed, because the acting was something! Ms. Lewek's acting under Mr. Uzan's direction was out of this world! I wish our friends from Opera Lively could have seen this incredible acting job (and those at driving distance from Charlotte still have two more opportunities to witness it!). The Mad Scene itself would rate an A++; I'd remove one + from the overall stage direction due to the minor problems I mentioned above, so, Mr. Uzan's score is A+: not perfect, but close! By the way, that ghost should enter the stage more slowly, in my opinion. She walked in a bit abruptly, each time.

Sets were pretty good. These New Orleans Opera sets are beautiful and very much create the needed atmosphere for this somber piece. They are not striking or wildly imaginative but they add to the show more than they subtract. A-

Lighting was efficient especially in the red hues of the three occasions when a ghost makes an entrance. There wasn't much variation, though, and no projections were employed (the circle of a moon was added in one scene, to beautiful effect). B+.

Costumes, wigs and make-up were correct and didn't get in the way. B+

Some other touches were compelling. There were more elements of stage direction and acting that were nice: for example, when Edgardo throws to the ground the necklace he had given Lucia, in a fit of jealous rage, she dives after it and crawls through the stage to grab it. Lucia had these sudden bursts of odd behavior that added to the psychological characterization of the role. Also, the fact that Ms. Lewek is petite and Mr. Borichesvsky is very tall, according to Ms. Lewek resulted in her character being even more vulnerable, and she is right about it. She was very convincing: fragile, eager, passionate. Mr. Stewart told me that the reason he made his Arturo so assertive, is that he dislikes seeing characters like Don Ottavio being depicted as weak. "After all, Don Ottavio is a Don as well; he is an equal to Don Giovanni – I like to think of my Arturo the same way." Spot on!

This production skipped Scene 1 of Act III, the Wolf's Crag scene. It also features a variation: Lucia stabs herself at the end of the Mad Scene instead of just collapse in exhaustion, which Ms. Lewek explained as a moment of lucidity at the end of her nervous breakdown, when she realizes that there is no way out for her. Unconventional, but effective, and blocking in that moment was nice, with virtually everybody rushing to her.

Recap: extremely good elements of this show include A++ conducting, A++ orchestral playing, A++ Mad Scene with original coloratura and one of the best acting jobs I've ever seen, A+ overall stage direction, a couple of singers in A and A+ territory, and rather beautiful scenery (A-). Overall singing A-, costumes and lighting get B+.

It is looking like the show as a whole gets a score of A+. Given that the less highly rated aspects are either less important, or were affected by illness, it will be easy for this show to reach A++ in the next two performances, since the singers will have five additional days to recover before the 16th, and eight before the 19th. So, I strongly encourage patrons to fill those seats. It's not every day that we see a Lucia with such phenomenal sounds from the pit, excellent acting and stage direction, and a very good cast that will do even better if we get some rain to wash away the pollen.

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Such a good production shouldn't have empty seats. Come on, shape up, Charlotte opera public, and gobble the remaining seats for the 16th and the 19th! We need to continue to support our excellent Opera Carolina! See, this is why we say that Opera Carolina is world class: some elements of this production were equal to or better than the Met's!

Interview by Luiz Gazzola from operalively.com – click here to visit the full article.