Wineke: Madison Opera is back and better than ever

Review: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sing a love story for Madison Opera

Madison Opera’s weekend performances of “Lucia Di Lammermoor” are the best I have experienced in more than 40 years of attending the opera.

Everything worked.  The singing was superb.  The lighting was magnificent.  The stage direction kept the show moving and the Madison Symphony Orchestra was at its best.

None of which is what I anticipated when my wife and I walked into Overture Hall Friday night.

For one thing, it’s a long opera.  From the time general director Kathryn Smith began her pre-opera talk to the time of the final curtain at 11 p.m., patrons spent four hours in a somewhat crowded room, masked and uncomfortable.

Nor is “Lucia Di Lammermoor” light listening.  The opera, first staged by Gaetano Donizetti in 1835, is a Romeo and Juliet kind of story in which the heroine kills the man she is forced to marry, goes mad, and dies.

It could have been a long night.

Instead, the time actually flew by and intermissions, two of them, seemed more to give the performers a break than to relieve the audience.

“Lucia Di Lammermoor” takes place in 19th century Scotland.  Enrico Ashton is lord of Lammermoor Castle but has come on hard times and wants his sister, Lucia, to marry Lord Arturo, who will save him financially.

Lucia, as one might guess, is actually in love with Ashton’s enemy, Edgardo.  But, she is forced to marry Arturo and, on their wedding night, she stabs him to death and then comes, in a bloodstained white gown, to the wedding feast where she sings a 20-minute aria as a madwoman.

This really doesn’t sound like the kind of story that would keep one on the edge of his seat for four hours, does it?

So, why does it work?

For starters, Lucia’s soprano role is sung by Jeni Houser, a Stoughton musician who has had leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Cincinnati Opera, and on and on.  Her ability to keep you with her during a very long aria is truly remarkable.

Justin Kroll, who made his Madison Opera debut, had a minor role as Arturo (we didn’t even see him get stabbed) but his performance as a pompous little rich guy fit the occasion.

Edgardo was sung by Andres Acosta.  In the first act, his acting seemed a bit out of sync with his singing.  If I shut my eyes, I could envision the emotion of the scene but not when I opened them again.  However, he was totally in charge of the next two acts.

But, as I said, it wasn’t just the performances of the singers.  Everything worked, from lighting to movement to the sets to the orchestra.

Because of Covid, the opera hasn’t been on stage for more than a year but it came back with style.