For every enterprising opera company that reaches out toward new horizons, there are dozens content to preserve the bad old ways: singers gathered from hither and yon, ancient sets and costumes apparently fished out of somebody’s dumpster, complacent conductors. Every so often this rag-tag-and-bobtail philosophy unexpectedly crystallizes into superior musicmaking. More often, though, it results in the shoddiness typified by Opera Pacific’s current “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
It should have been better. Ruth Ann Swenson has been garnering critical love letters since her San Francisco Opera performances in the early 1980s, and her lithe, nicely acted Lucia in Costa Mesa was lit with some brilliant vocal fireworks, above all the famous E-flats in the mad scene.
Elsewhere in her performance, however, there was carelessness: off-pitch lower notes, laggardly rhythmic attacks, an apparent breakdown in communication with the slack, uneventful conducting of Mark Flint. Without a Lucia, there is no “Lucia.”
Nor much of anything else, for that matter: not with the shrill Edgardo of tenor Cesar Hernandez, the brutally overloud Enrico of Mark Rucker or the squall of William Gorton’s Arturo, whose murder at the heroine’s hands at least proved the lady’s talent as a music critic.
The 22-year-old sets and costumes — murk upon murk, salvaged from the Dallas Opera, ill-used in Roman Terleckyj’s lumpy staging — served as visual counterpart to the sorry procession of sounds. One mercy, however: Most of the traditional cuts were observed.