Bruno Cinquegrani: Donizetti expert?

Aleksandra Kurzak as Lucia. Photo courtesy Seattle Opera.

Bruno Cinquegrani doesn’t consider himself a Donizetti expert, even when posed with a long list of experiences with the composer’s operas that suggest the contrary. “I’m not exactly an expert,” he remarked to me last week when I talked with him at the Seattle Opera’s rehearsal space in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Even if the conductor doesn’t consider himself an expert, the breadth of his experience has positioned him as a promising young proponent of the Bergamo born Donizetti . Cinquegrani has already conducted a number of the composers operas. He’s conducted popular operas like Lucrezia Borgia and less known works like Marin Fallero, even giving the premiere performance of the new critical edition of Fallero. He worked at the Bergamo Musica Festival — an opera festival with a heavy focus on Gaetano Donizetti — located in Donizetti’s home town of Bergamo, Italy. And, for Seattle Opera’s upcoming performances of Lucia di Lammermoor, Cinquegrani’s preparation was meticulous and scholarly as he sorted through the innumerable versions of the scores making choices along the way.

Lucia di Lammermoor is Donizetti’s most popular work and one of the most frequently performed operas in the United States. According to Opera America, it ranks 13th out of the 20 most performed operas. Audiences haven’t always embraced Lucia. Until the middle of the 20th Century, Lucia was deemed by some a show piece for coloratura fireworks. But the emergence of sopranos like Maria Callas (Cinquegrani is using Maria Callas’ cadenza for Lucia’s famous ‘mad scene’) and Joan Sutherland (who passed away earlier this week) helped change opinions about the opera with their now legendary, emotional performances of the title role.

Lucia might have earned the favoritism of American audiences by highlighting drama, but for Cinquegrani the attraction is both musical and dramatic. “Donizetti is truly the bridge between Rossini and Mozart, and Verdi,” he says. One example of this bridge jumped to his attention. “At the end of the second act of Lucia, the finale, sounds very similar to the finale of Nabucco.” Moments after explaining these similarities, the conductor launched into an summary of other examples of Donizetti’s musical innovation. According the Cinquegrani, the repeating themes in Lucia predate cyclical form which became popular later. “There is much more in the music than people see.”

As Cinquegrani sees it, Donizetti is also a theatrical innovator as well. “Definitely Verdi is the master of theatrical composition, but I hear Donizetti going in that direction.” Cinquerani continued, “you will hear a lot of Mozart in Donizetti’s operas, but how he paces the opera is more theatrical.” Even as the music itself bends theatrically, Donizetti also experimented with elements on and sometimes off stage. The conductor points to an off stage execution and gong in Marin Fallero as foreshadowing Turandot.

As time, performance trends, and even the firm ideas of Arturo Toscanini have changed how Lucia is performed, Seattle Opera’s new Lucia could do the same thing in a different way. This is a global Lucia. Artists involved hail from every corner of the world — America, Italy, Poland, Israel — however, Cinquegrani doesn’t see this diversity diminishing the cohesiveness of the production. Regardless of where a singer is from, Ciquegrani said, “I believe in musicians. If you think you can say something interesting, then why not?”

Lucia di Lammermoor runs from 10/16 to 10/30.  www.seattleopera.org

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