Everyone’s mad about this Lucia

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The story of “Lucia di Lammermoor” is so grim, it could have been written by the Grimm brothers, rather than Walter Scott. Everything in the production by the Los Angeles Opera is grim, too, from the scenery to the costumes to the directing. Poor Lucia, forced by her wicked brother to marry a man she does not love, kills her bridegroom on their wedding night.

Fortunately, there is a shining Lucia in the person of Anna Netrebko, a soprano from Russia who is making her mark in the world of opera. She is a slim, beautiful Lucia who not only sings but also acts. In the famous “mad scene,” she brings off the long, difficult aria with vocal pyrotechnics and extraordinary expressiveness. Sarah Bernhardt could not have gone mad so wonderfully.

The other principals, all in good voice, have limited acting opportunities because of the deadly direction by Marthe Keller. There is no feeling of rapport in the cast. Keller bunches up the chorus members in unimaginative groups, making them all look terribly uncomfortable. The chorus celebrates the coming marriage of Lucia and Arturo by throwing their hands up in the air in time to the music and executing other silly maneuvers.

Also somewhat off-putting were some of the special effects, such as the sound of surf and seagulls during the tedious scene changes and the sound of rain that mercifully stops just in time for the famous sextet. (Here, in this show stopper, Keller has the six singers strung out across the front of the stage, with the poor basso lost somewhere in the wings.)

The sets are rather drab, with gray castle walls and a black and white scrim for the sky. The costumes are all dark and anyone who has seen previous “Lucias” must miss the colorful Scottish tartans. Lucia is allowed a bright red wedding dress, which she soon discards to disclose her bloody nightie.

The two main roles of Enrico, Lucia’s brother, and Edgardo, her lover, are sung well by Franco Vassallo and Jose Bros, respectively. However, neither exhibited the passion and rage required by their characters. Others in the cast were Kresimir Spicer as Lucia’s ill-fated bridegroom, Vitalij Kowaljow as the family mentor and Margaret Thompson as Alisa, Lucia’s friend. Their voices shone through thanks to the excellent work of veteran opera conductor Julius Rudel. The music of Donizetti is wonderful, capturing brilliantly the feeling of the weather-challenged countryside of Scotland as well as the breast-beating emotions of the characters.

The various shortcomings in this production can be overlooked thanks to the brilliance of Anna Netrebko. She will be doing her thing at the still-lovely Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Dec. 12 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 14 and 20 at 2 p.m.