“I want to see what was there for me once, then what is there for me now,” playwright Lillian Hellman famously wrote in her 1973 memoir, Pentimento. Often, however, many of us don’t want to revisit indelible memories. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we keep examining them, they won’t ultimately measure up to the place of supreme importance we have assigned them in our past.
I had an experience along these lines on Friday, November 11, 2017, at opening night of Florida Grand Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. It was the opening of the seventy-seventh consecutive season of FGO, where I began working last January as the company’s Public Relations Manager. It was a sudden and momentous move for me: I spent twenty-eight years as an editor at Opera News Magazine, and more than thirty years as a resident of New York City before suddenly being job-eliminated and having to scramble for a professional berth. Prior to my job interview, I had never set foot in Miami, and, with classic New York tunnel vision, I had a mistaken impression that the only thing that mattered here was where to find the perfect Mojito. The transition has been far easier than I expected: I’ve made wonderful friends in Miami, and have come to relish all of the city’s well-publicized advantages: long, glorious, sunny days at the beach, superb dining, and a far more vibrant cultural life than I had known existed here.
Still, when I learned that FGO was going to be staging Lucia di Lammermoor for opening night of the 2017–18 season, I had mixed feelings. Back in October of 1982, only four months after I had left my home in Oregon to move to New York City, I had experienced my first Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera. It remains one of the seminal theatrical events of my life. Starring as the tragic Scottish bride-to-be Lucia was the legendary Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, returning to the Met after a four-season absence, in which she and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, had reportedly squabbled over appropriate repertoire. The Met had wanted her to sing Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, which no longer interested her; she wanted to star in Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, which did not interest the Met. The upshot was that this great artist had been absent for many crucial seasons when she was in spectacular vocal form, and her army of admirers felt seriously deprived.
Her return to to Met roster was a highly publicized (and, for her fans, a highly emotional, event). Fingers were pointed and blame assigned in both directions. But the thing that everyone agreed upon was that the Sutherland magic was undiminished. Although she was in her mid-fifties at the time, her voice was still enormous, beautiful, and astonishingly fresh and flexible; when she hit her highest notes, they actually seemed to resonate inside my own head. I had never heard anything remotely like it in the theater.
That run of Lucias became a kind of gateway drug to what was to become my serious and lifelong addiction to opera. I never stopped looking on it as one of my most potent operatic touchstones. But two Friday nights ago at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House, I made a wonderful discovery: it is Lucia itself, as a masterpiece of the bel-canto repertoire, that is my touchstone. This gloomy, Gothic story of power struggles, family feuds, and how one woman can overcome her own subjugation only by committing an appalling act of violence, is simply greater than any one interpretation can promise. Sitting in the audience at FGO’s production, as I listened to Anna Christy and Joshua Guerrero, Trevor Scheunemann, and a talented supporting cast bring the work to life, I experienced the great pleasure of feeling my connection to the work move to a deeper level. I felt very happy that I have been able to manage the transition from New York to Miami, and even happier that Lucia is no longer a memory preserved, like a fly in amber. My passion for this work isn’t something that’s trapped back in 1982. It’s a living thing that will go on and on—and that seems something worth celebrating.
Two performances of FGO’s Lucia remain, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Au-Rene Theater on November 30 and December 2, 2017, both at 7:30 p.m.