Practice makes perfect and fundamentals are still essential in the company’s rendition of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
A tragic fable of love burdened by power and deception, composer Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ is a compelling romantic drama that highlights the beauty of the classical voice and culmination of theatrical elements.
Lucia is sheltered and neglected in her upbringing. Used as a political pawn, her one duty is to fulfill her role in a larger family dynamic. With no prior opportunity to express herself both emotionally and physically, she finds comfort in Edgardo,the love of her life. “For the first time, an individual sees her truly as who she is. He listens to her, he dreams with her, fantasizes with her, comes together with her in equality and equilibrium in a place she never been before,” explains rising American soprano, Maeve Höglund who portrays the title character.
Their love becomes an ecstatic experience for a woman who was ignored, who accepted her small role in a larger family dynamic. Set in Scotland, the tragic tale parallels Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, while capitalizing on Europe’s fascination with Scottish tales and folklore. Donizetti employs radical concepts of a woman’s refusal to fulfill wifely duties, ultimately descending into a maddening state. Such details exhibit the composer’s revolutionary thematic principles, now reinterpreted with the intensity and sonority of Maestro Louis Salemno, Music Director for the Maryland Lyric Opera based in Hyattsville, Maryland.
The company is experiencing amazing trajectory since its founding in 2014, explains Maestro Salemno. The acclaimed American conductor’s career spans over four decades and associations with operatic venues both domestically and internationally.
Last year MDLO hosted four recitals with piano at local churches. For the 2018-2019 season, there are 13 performances with an orchestra at three different venues (The Clarice, churches and The Strathmore) scheduled, as the company furthers its production and educational goals.
For almost a decade, Salemno served as Resident Coach for the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, where he mentored young talents, some of whom are cast members of Lucia. Baritone Hunter Enoch spent three years with Domingo-Cafritz and has exclusively worked with Salemno for four years, explains MDLO General Manager Matthew Woorman, a singer himself.
“We have such an experienced crew within our company. Joan Sullivan-Genthe, our Resident Lighting Designer met Maestro Salemno in 1978 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as assistants where they worked on the world premiere of ‘Paradise Lost’ by Krzysztof Penderecki. They then traveled with the production to the Vatican to perform for the Pope.”
Woorman also credits Chorus Master Steven Gathman, who has worked with Washington National Opera for over 125 productions and conducted full performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Resident Director Nick Olcott, who oversees the production of the seductively beautiful tale, was a faculty member of the UMD School of Theater for over 20 years.
With such guidance and expertise, the actors, who are accomplished vocalists themselves, translate their actions into a commanding stage presence. Tenor Roy Hage is a two time Grammy nominee and bass Wei Wu is currently nominated.
The power of the actors’ voices matches the distinct, present emotions of their faces, revealing the characters’ inner sensations. The lyrics, sung in the composer’s native Italian, may not be easily understood for non-experienced opera-goers. Nevertheless, audiences have the universal ability to recognize the angst, hope, love and remorse powerfully depicted by the performers.
The magnetic notes projected from the singers emit similar feelings that conductor Louis Salemno felt when he discovered music. Salemno recalls being at this aunt’s house when he was eight years old. He looked over at this big black box. It was a piano. He took a seat, pressed the keys and felt the vibrations course through his body. He credits his encouraging parents who recognized his potential. His commitment to auditory art has continued ever since.
From his first piano teacher Mrs. Booth in Philadelphia, he went to the Parisian studio of Nadia Boulanger, whose students include Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass and Virgil Thomson. As a 15-year-old under her instruction, Salemno will never forget Madame Boulanger’s orders to practice the piano every day. And so, he does.
“I’m particularly pleased with this ‘Lucia’ because we have two complete casts who are young and vocally diverse. They’re beautiful, young people with fresh, vibrant voices who are right at the beginning of their career,” says Salemno.
“If this is [the audiences’] first time watching opera, they will witness a very organic, and traditional style of opera. They will witness more drama and familiar tales that emulate similar situations in real life. Maestro Salemno teaches us to communicate with the audience and to better express ourselves,” explains baritone Seunghyeon Baek, who plays Lucia’s brother, Enrico.
“I never say I have a favorite opera, but I have a favorite composer,” says Salemno. “When I play the piano it’s Bach. When I’m in the opera it’s Verdi. But ‘Lucia’,” he muses, “is one of the most successful of the tragic Italian operas of the bel canto tradition. It’s very attractive when it’s played by a young cast.” Maryland Lyric Opera is composed of a young cast on the brink of stardom. Mentors train them to then present the new talents to the public on the stage and employ them with no expenses. The MDLO Young Artist Institute ensures the next generations of singers learn from experienced opera professionals through one-on-one training as they develop their craft.
“He is so committed to the story and to the text,” praises Höglund. Salemno understands the important of opera interpretation and style, focusing on such culminations in his training and professional life.
“We as a cast are fortunate that we have such a well-versed maestro at the helm. It pushes us to perfect our art form. It aligns with how Donizetti would want the music to be sung, interpreted and expressed by including nuances of the composer’s music that tell the story. They are the story,” says Höglund.
“I thought I was at the end of the third act,” ponders Salemno. “But this has been an invigorating experience. I feel now that my life is at the beginning of the third act.”
Lucia di Lammermoor, presented by Maryland Lyric Opera, will be showing at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – College Park, January 24-26. Ticket Prices: $25-60, Student Tickets: $10; For more information, visit theclarice.umd.edu.
Cast and performance dates:
Lucia: Maeve Höglund (24, 26)/ Nayoung Ban (25)
Edgardo: Yi Li (24, 26)/ Yongxi Chen (25)
Enrico: SeungHyeon Baek (24,26)/ Daniel Scofield (25)
Raimondo: Wei Wu (24, 26)/ Hunter Ecoch (25)
Arturo: Antonio Chase (All dates)
Alisa: Daiyao Zhong (All dates)
Normanno: Yang Chen (All dates)