Opera can present audiences with some pretty dramatic scenes, and, of course, sounds. When it comes to settings that convey a sense of tension, not to mention foreboding, the misty pastoral expanses of Scotland are hard to beat. Then again, Spanish director Emilio Sagi opted to imply the north-of-the-border ambience rather than spelling things out for the opera fans who will attend the upcoming performances of Lucia di Lammermoor of the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv (January 17 to February 3).
Supervision of the musical side of the production of Donizetti’s ever-popular work will be shared by seasoned Italian conductor Daniele Callegari and Israeli counterpart Ethan Schmeisser, with the relatively minimalist sets created by Argentinian Enrique Bordolin, while Eduardo Bravo will come over from Spain to ensure that the stage, and the costumes designed by Imme Moller, are suitably illuminated.
For Hila Baggio, landing the lead role, which she will share with veteran Spanish soprano Maria Jose Moreno, is a dream come true.
“I never really thought that I’d ever get to sing this role,” she states.
In fact, she landed the role by default, but for the best of reasons.
“There was another singer who was supposed to do this role, but she had to cancel because she is pregnant,” explains the Israeli soprano. “A pregnancy of one singer is always an opportunity for someone else,” she observes philosophically.
She has been there and done that herself.
“In the past I had to cancel roles when I was pregnant, so I know the following,” she adds with a laugh.
“This was an opportunity to see whether I am really capable of handling such a role, and I am very happy to have been given a shot at it,” she says.
Baggio confesses to having a weakness for works by the early 19th-century Italian composer.
“I have a good relationship with the music of Donizetti,” she declares. “He is a composer who is good for my voice, and I like his music very much. I think he had a weakness for sopranos, and it’s always wonderful to sing his material because it sits so well with my voice.”
Then again, it is never a good idea to get too comfortably ensconced in a score, and Donizetti’s vocal content is certainly designed to keep Baggio on her toes.
“The role of Lucia is very technically demanding and, of course, in dramatic terms. You could say that this is the most dramatic role I have ever done,” she says.
There is an abundance of emotional high jinks throughout the opera, which is loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor, about a young Scottish woman who is in love with Edgardo of Ravenswood. As fate would have it, there is a feud raging between Lucia’s family and the Ravenswoods.
The opera lovers has a riveting closing solo spot which, says Baggio, means she has to stay tuned throughout, as well as having to conserve her energy.
“What is really tough about this role is the madness aria, which is the big scene right at the end of the opera, where the vocalist sings for about 15 minutes without a break. That’s after I’ve already sung a number of duets and also sung with the ensembles.
The closing aria is really demanding, and you really need your wits about you in order to be able to handle it,” she says.
It really is a stunning closing berth. The roll call of sopranos who have taken the lead in Lucia includes Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland. So Baggio is treading in some mammoth footsteps.
“There are some greats who have stood the test of this role,” she says. “I hope I join the list of the ones who have done it well,” she adds. “I am sure I will do it well.”
But there is more to getting the job done well than just navigating the numerous technical challenges along the way. The final aria is a toughie, in which the soloist has to steer her way through some pretty daunting lower register passages, besides the trademark soprano peaks.
“More than anything, it is important to me to connect with the character and to move the audience,” Baggio says. “You can’t possibly sing such a role without being there, not 100 percent, you have to be 200 percent at any given moment.”
For some years now, opera singers have had to do the business in all sorts of cultural ambiences. There are more traditionally oriented directors who prefer to tread an esthetic path that is close to the original physical setting, while others opt for contemporary setups.
That, presumably, can have a bearing on how the singers approach their work, too. Baggio says that the upcoming production of Lucia falls somewhere between the traditional and avant-garde lines of attack.
“You can’t really call this production traditional because it is devoid of place and time, but there is nothing that gets in the way of my ability to do what I am supposed to do. The set does not impinge on the music in any way. In that respect, the production gives the vocalist plenty of room to express herself. This is a production that allows the drama to unfold,” she says.
That augurs well for a suitably undulating impassioned ride through Lucia di Lammermoor, with Baggio bringing the whole thing to an emotive apex.
All told, there will be 12 performances of the opera in the present run, with the Italian libretto complemented by English and Hebrew surtitles.
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777; www.israel-opera.co.il