MUSICAL DIRECTION: Willem Vogel, with the Salon Ensemble

STAGE DIRECTION: Greg Melvill-Smith

CAST: Ilze Coetzee, Arthur Swan, Douwe Bijkersma, Timothy Matlala, Aron Mahlohla, Naomi Grobbelaar

NARRATOR: Christopher Marais

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes (interval included)

VENUE: Brooklyn Theatre, Pretoria

UNTIL: SUNDAY (Wednesday and Friday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm)


THE ITALIANS’ wonderful sense for bel canto, meaning the beauty of the human voice, gave their melodies that broad, elastic, flexible, freely arching line which is the birthright of the lyric stage. Every melody’s soul is in love with the reality of the human voice, and while being the slave of this love, it also fires it with exuberance and passion.

Two composers in particular, Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) and Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), were representatives of this relatively short, but exquisite period in opera history, with the former seizing one specific detail, the cult of melody, on which he built his personal art. Donizetti, whose best known opera is Lucia di Lammermoor, was still engrossed by the glory of classic opera. He endeavoured to follow it in its prime aspects.

Salon Music’s newly staged production of Lucia after an absence of 12 years, is especially welcome since the company now has the advantage of a proper proscenium theatre. Also, their in-house mentorship where younger singers are nurtured and given the chance to sing prominent roles, as here with Ilse Coetzee who makes her debut in the title role, is an artistic investment which bodes well for the future.

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, a dominant tragic theme running through the opera as a whole is the fact that love can never thrive when both external and internal power games are at stake.

As is the case with most salon versions of operas, the current one is far from complete, but nevertheless follows its main trajectory and includes all the main musical highlights which no one in their right mind would dare to omit.

Very valuable in this production is the added role of a narrator, done with stylish aplomb by Christopher Marais. This is all but a narrative: rather a reflection on what has happened, or is about to happen, and what the consequences for the main protagonists are, or might be. Written by Harry Hofmeyr, it is a clever dramatic and even at times ironic tool binding the events together, but also one viewing it in a somewhat deeper and often philosophical context.

Taking everything into consideration, opera, at the end of the day, is about the dramatic thrust which can be fired up with the right musical forces. It is here where one is short-changed on an instrumental level. An ensemble of six players – piano, violin, ’cello, double bass, flute and clarinet – cannot reflect the richness and even less so the colouring and subtlety of Donizetti’s orchestration.

The young Coetzee does some fine work as Lucia. This role demands distinction of tone, phrasing and emotion, not to forget technical security. It is not all there yet all the time, but she’s well on her way.

Arthur Swan provides us with a neatly tailored performance of Edgardo. Timothy Matlala’s burnished Raimondo and Aron Mahlohia ringing Normanno and Arturo should follow Donizetti’s dynamic markings more carefully, while Douwe Bijkersma’s Enrico demonstrates his growth as a singer from one production to the next.

The chorus sings with a natural expression, notwithstanding that their movements on the stage seem cramped and at times uncertain. Greg Melvill-Smith’s stage direction is capable.