Lucia, the character at the center of Donizetti's tragedy Lucia di Lammermoor, is wonderful mixture of intense love, savage hate and, in the end, a dramatic descent into madness. (No, that's actually not a spoiler -- look at the poster for the Opera in the Heights production below. It shows Lucia covered in blood. Does she look sane?)
Working with maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo, sopranos Jessica E. Jones and Amanda Kingston share the juicy title role. And it's an exhausting one, requiring the singer to go from a young, innocent woman in love to a vengeful murderer about to lose her mind. Lucia is in love with Edgardo (Anthony Webb and Wesley Morgan), but her brother Enrico (Octavio Moreno) is determined to marry her off to a wealthy but hideous Arturo (George Williams). Enrico tricks Lucia into marrying Arturo, but when she finds out she's been deceived, she loses her grip on reality.
"There's a real Romeo & Juliet feel to her love with Edgardo," Jones tells us. "On one level she knows it's never going to be possible for them to be together but she wants it so much that not being with him is just torment for her. I'm thrilled to be singing [her]; it's something that I always wanted to perform. It's a wonderful role. Well, not wonderful in terms of what happens to her, but wonderful in the range she goes through. There's lots to find in her."
"It's a love story that's gone terribly, terribly wrong. It's just captivating," Jones says. "It really pulls at your heartstrings. It's different from Romeo and Juliet in that there's more honesty, I think. It's a brutally honest picture into human capacity and what can happen when people's lives take unexpected turns, when they're put into situations that they have no control over. For Lucia, it's literally maddening."
Kingston agrees. "She's an incredible, challenging character. It's exciting to get to play her. It's very easy to see Lucia as a victim, but I think it's a lot more heartbreaking to see her as someone who is strong and empowered and then falls. I hope that I can portray Lucia in a way that shows her as a person in a tragic situation rather than a tragic person. She's somebody who has had a lot of people in her life let her down and there are people around her that are very ruthless."
For such a dark story, Donizetti's music is varied. It's in the bel canto (beautiful singing) style but it's a tragic opera so there a lot of depth to the music reflecting Lucia's sense of anger and betrayal .
"The mad scene is incredible," Kingston says. "It's a big thing and it's so fulfilling She's creating an alternate reality for herself. She's seeing Edgardo and all these other people and it's beautiful but of course, it's not real. There are lots of high notes and all these rolling chords. There's a whole section that she sings with just a flute player. The flute embodies the voice of Edgardo in her head. It's all unaccompanied. It's actually not in the score but it's very famous and is part of the tradition of performing Lucia that you really can't not do it."
The two women, longtime friends, have shared roles before. "Our voices are very similar and different at the same time," Jones tells us. "We're each bringing something unique to the role." Each woman has watched the other's rehearsals and the two have discussed their contrasting approaches to the role. "It's nice to have someone that you trust and know to talk with about the role," Kingston adds.
See the Opera in the Heights production of Lucia di Lammermoor at 7:30 p.m. March 28 and 29, April 3, 4 and 5, 2 p.m. March 30 and April 6. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $10 to $55.