Right at the start of Act 2, in Seattle Opera’s production of Donizetti’s 1835 melodrama, is when I knew we were in for a great “mad scene” later on—the opera’s centerpiece and raison de staging. In the story line, several months had passed during intermission, and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, in the title role, subtly and skillfully aged from the susceptible girl of Act 1 to a woman pushed to the edge, ready to avenge her imminent forced marriage by stabbing her husband. (Just in time for Halloween.) Her singing up to that point raised expectations too—easy and flexible, with only a slight loss of surface gloss at high volume. When that mad scene comes, in Act 3, Kurzak attacks it fearlessly, not only theatrically (even cutting her forearms in time to the music!), but vocally. She delivers what coloratura singing ought to be, yet not often is: more than mere notes, rests, and barlines, but a sonic analogue to what’s going on in the character’s mind.
During this scene, stage director Tomer Zvulun has the hallucinating Lucia remove her skirt and gloves as shocked chorus members turn away, slyly referencing the 19th century’s conflation of madness and female sexuality. (Hysteria/hysterectomy, etc.) Another telling metaphor is Robert A. Dahlstrom’s Escheresque Habitrail of a set, all spiral staircases and bridges in every direction—Lucia’s twisted brain, rendered in scaffolding. (It’s even gray.)
Tenor William Burden brings a youthful dash to Edgardo, the man Lucia really loves, and he and Kurzak share a convincing chemistry. To end the evening, Burden pours some gorgeous and impassioned singing into one of the most thankless scenes in the repertory: his suicide following her mad scene, after most everyone’s stopped caring what happens.