When John Copley’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor is remounted, it often comes with the marketing phrase ‘a piece of Australian operatic history’. The production was created for Joan Sutherland in 1980, giving Australian audiences a second opportunity to see her in the role that caused a sensation when she first performed it at Covent Garden in 1959 (she also sang it during the legendary 1965 Sutherland–Williamson tour).
Sutherland had all the requirements for a Lucia: a dramatic coloratura fach with the acting technique and vocal agility to surmount Lucia’s celebrated mad scene. It is a massive challenge, more so for Sutherland’s successors in Copley’s production, wearing costumes designed for her: big shoes to fill.
WA Opera’s decision to dust off the old Copley warhorse as part of their Fiftieth Anniversary season was a nod to Sutherland, the company’s first patron. Sutherland (who recorded the role twice for Decca) is rightly venerated. But opera isn’t just about history; if a production doesn’t question or illuminate our times, perhaps it should stay mothballed. The big question, then, wasn’t whether the soprano in the WA Opera production could fill Sutherland’s shoes; her challenge was to make Lucia’s story connect with the audience today. Happily, Emma Pearson did this and more, revealing to her Perth home-town audience the skills she has acquired during her decade as a principal singer at Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden.
Read the rest of this review at the Australian Book Review.