London Coliseum – until 5 December 2018
What you really need after a hard day at work is to watch a woman in a bloodstained nightie go mad in a dilapidated Scottish castle after stabbing her husband.
Except you do. When the madwoman playing the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor is Sarah Tynan – ENO’s most popular soprano, in her debut in this bel canto role. Tynan is undoubtedly the best actress on the modern opera stage. It’s this dual skill that makes you engage with the frankly bonkers story about an arranged marriage at the time of the ‘Auld Alliance’ between Mary Queen of Scots and the perfidious French. 1547, give or take a few.
David Alden’s staging is dark and monotone, even the tartan’s black and grey, but Tynan provides all the illumination you need. Although her voice is initially lighter than many sopranos who have assailed this role – some old buffers behind me in the Stalls were chuntering about Joan Sutherland – she has such glorious musical clarity, and when you get to the all-important ‘mad scene’ the coloratura is clean and bright and fine.
Tynan is ably abetted by Eleazar Rodriguez as her actual love Edgardo, his subtropical tenor embraces her and shields you from dour Scottish chills. They were paired last year as Count Almaviva and Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and it’s evolving into a wonderful partnership. As her priestly nemesis – occasionally as chilling as Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, Clive Bayley also has tremendous clarity in the diction: you need never glance at the surtitles when he’s singing.
We may be in the peaty lowlands of Caledonia, but the music is decidedly Italian: Donizetti’s tuneful, lilting arias beautifully belie the setting and feel upbeat even when describing absolute horror. Stuart Stratford conducts with dramatic fire, and the energised orchestra and chorus are clearly relishing it: both are beyond first rate.
And when our tragic heroine sings variously tied to a bedstead with a skipping rope, rolling on the dirt floor with two different men, and in the bloody embrace of the bloke she just killed – you just have to love her spunk.