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Boston Lyric's 'Lucie' takes a darker, raw twist

Boston Lyric Opera's production of Donizetti's ''Lucie de Lammermoor" opens with a picturesque image worthy of Sir Walter Scott, whose novel ''The Bride of Lammermoor" is the source of the story. During the prelude we see a stag drinking from a fountain (''The stag at eve had drunk his fill" may be Scott's most famous line). Only this stag is dressed and wigged as the heroine of the opera, sporting antlers and menaced by a male hunter bearing a crossbow. Female deer don't grow antlers, but directors Lillian Groag and Mark Streshinsky don't let that interfere with their symbolic scheme: men bearing antlers reappear at nearly every moment of crisis.

Lucie, the Scottish heroine, is destroyed by the men who surround her and manipulate her for political and clannish reasons. Her brother forces her into a loveless but advantageous marriage. Her true lover Edgard shows up at the wedding and curses Lucie. She murders her bridegroom in the bridal bed, goes melodiously mad, then dies.

Donizetti revised his most famous opera for Paris, and this rarely heard variant is interesting to hear. The French version gives the heroine a different entrance aria, but one just as good; drops the part of Lucie's companion; cobbles together a new part for a nasty, double-crossing go-between. New stretches of recitative make the plot clearer, but 95 percent of the music is what the world has loved for 170 years.

There is no emphasis on the romantic aspects of the tale and of the music in this staging, which the Lyric shares with Glimmerglass Opera; this is raw psychodrama. John Conklin's set is a group of raked platforms and tilted panels; the panels serve as screens for dark and ominous projections.

The musical side of the opera is better served. The orchestra does a terrific job for conductor Emmanuel Plasson, the son of the eminent French conductor Michel Plasson; the younger Plasson propels the ensembles with lots of energy, but also accompanies the bel canto vocal lines sympathetically. The chorus sounds good too.

In the title role, soprano Tracy Dahl, a plucky little performer, harkens back to the light-voiced heroines of the period 50 years ago before Maria Callas. She was best when she stayed within that period framework; a few overdramatic moments sounded absurd in her voice, which is flexible, accurate, musical, expressive and attractive, except when she is pressing for volume on high notes; she doesn't go for the unwritten but traditional top tones at the end of both sections of the Mad Scene. Dahl's cadenza is affecting: the flute that shadows her (the excellent Renee Krimsier) drops out, leaving her truly and frighteningly alone.

As Lucie's domineering brother, Gaetan Laperriere snarls a lot and sits down on her dress so she can't get away from him. David M. Cushing hurls out his voluminous bass as the chaplain. As Edgard, tenor Yasu Nakajima is a cipher. He has a sweet, small, soft-focus voice, cottony in timbre; there is no ring in his singing and he never communicates emotion of any kind. Both of the supporting tenors -- Joshua Kohl as the unlucky bridegroom and Alan Schneider as the villain -- have stronger voices, and they both deliver their messages.

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