Kim’s bravura performance strikes sparks in Sarasota Opera’s “Lucia”

March 18, 2012

Kathleen KIm as Lucia and Lee Poulis as Enrico in Sarasota Opera's "Lucia di Lammermoor." Photo: Rod Millington

After Friday night’s dismal Carmen at Sarasota Opera, there was nowhere to go but up with Saturday’s Donizetti matinee. And while not quite a Lucia di Lammermoor for the ages, the company fielded a sturdy, musically sound production spotlighted by Kathleen Kim’s role debut as the tragic title heroine.

Since her turn as a young artist at Sarasota Opera just a few years ago, the Korean soprano has gone on to a major career performing at the world’s most celebrated houses including the Met and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Kim’s high soprano is not the most luxuriant voice around and it’s unlikely that she could attempt this tortuous role in large venues. But for her first Lucia in Sarasota’s intimate William E. Schmidt Theater, Kim delivered a notably well sung and dramatically compelling performance.

For someone who has tackled such high-flying coloratura roles as Zerbinetta and the Queen of the Night, Kim, surprisingly, often erred on the side of caution in the stratospheric roulades, with sparing top notes and conservative slow tempos, as in the Act 1 cabaletta, Quando rapito in estasi.

Yet, apart from some sharpness on top, her tone was pure and often luminous, as in a lovely Regnava nel silenzio, and she blended fluently with her male colleagues in duets. Kim rose to the daunting challenge of the Mad Scene courageously and to devastating effect, her rendition less concerned with canary-bird fireworks than incisive dramatic engagement. The soprano charted Lucia’s mental decline in fearless, almost clinical detail from distracted to happily confused and completely unhinged in a powerful, bravura piece of vocal acting.

As Lucia’s lover Edgardo, Joshua Kohl made a largely favorable impression. The young tenor proved a handsome hero and solid actor, believable in his anger when he thinks Lucia he has betrayed him. Vocally, Kohl was mostly admirable, displaying a plangent tenor of vibrancy and singing with ardor, apart from cracking badly on a top note in Fra poco a me ricovero.

Lee Poulis as Enrico was a fine villain, bringing a commanding presence and secure if lightish baritone to the role of Lucia’s evil, calculating brother.

Company regular Young-Bok Kim proved a sonorous Raimondo but, unfortunately, both of his arias were axed—as was the Wolf’s Crag scene—in this copiously trimmed production. As Arturo, Lucia’s ill-fated spouse, James Chamberlain lent his booming tenor to an imposing and richly sung Sextet. Daryl Freedman was a worthy Alisa, Steven Uliana a workmanlike Normanno.

Brian Robertson directed the action effectively and Robert O’Hearn’s sets were in the house style of sturdy traditionalism.

Conductor Anthony Barrese showed supreme sympathy with Donizetti’s melodious score, leading a taut, atmospheric account, sustaining the long bel canto lines superbly and bringing great lift and buoyancy to the toe-tapping rhythms. The company has fielded an exceptionally strong lineup of studio (young) artists this year as was made manifest in the robust ensembles, which proved a highlight of the performance under Roger L. Bingaman’s direction.

There is one more performance of Lucia di Lammermoor 8 p.m. March 23.

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