How to Drive Your Sister Crazy (Cue the Oboe)

Brothers can be cruel. That’s probably not the chief thing that Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti wanted audiences to remember after seeing his 1835 smash hit Lucia di Lammermoor, currently being staged by the Minnesota Opera at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts Theater, but isn’t not a bad summary. Sisters, take heed.

The plot of Lucia derives from Sir Walter Scott’s international literary sensation, The Bride of Lammermoor, which is loosely based on an old Scottish legend. As the curtain rises, Enrico, the lord of Lammermoor, is planning to marry off his younger sister, Lucia, to a wealthy acquaintance, in the hopes of shoring up his financial and political position. The carefree Lucia, however, has other ideas: She’s fallen in love with her brother’s arch rival, a fellow named Edgardo, who recently saved her from the horns of an onrushing bull. You see where this is going, don’t you? In the end, somebody’s still gonna get gored.

The tragedy plays out beautifully on the Ordway stage as Enrico works out his plan to thwart his sister’s love and wed her to a stranger—inadvertently setting off a cascade of events that turn Lucia loony and lead her to murder her bridegroom in their marriage bed. Soprano Susanna Phillips is convincingly winsome and kicky as the First Act Lucia, then wild-eyed, tragic, and resolved as she brandishes a sword post-intermission. Tenor Michael Spyres, as her lover Edgardo, and bass James Westman, as the evil Enrico, both turn in great performances, but it’s Phillips whose musical performance thrills. On opening night, you could have heard a pin drop as she appeared for the famous “mad” scene in the third act; and patrons sprang to their feet the second she emerged for her curtain call at the end of the night—a gesture the seemed to genuinely surprise and thrill Phillips, as if the entire three hours had been erased and she was young, naïve, happy Lucia all over again. Brothers, take heed: sisters can be remarkably resilient.

Lucia di Lammermoor
Through March 10
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
345 Washington St., St. Paul, 651-224-4222