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Met Soprano Lives up to Her
‘Reputation’ in Portland’s ‘Lucia’

By T.J. Medrek, Boston Herald

PORTLAND, Maine - Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor'' may be an Italian opera set in Scotland. But the production by the Portland Opera Repertory Theatre that opened Thursday and repeats tonight has a strong Boston accent.

Boston Lyric Opera music director Stephen Lord led the orchestra in the pit of Merrill Audi- torium - probably the finest opera house in New England (take that, Beantown!). The stage was filled with Allen Moyer's set from the Lyric's own 1997 'Lucia.'

Baritone Philip Torre, featured this spring in the Lyric's "Die Fledermaus,'' was Lucia's villainous brother, Enrico. Indeed, the cast was filled mostly by rising young singers, the Lyric's stated mandate. And behind it all was PORT director Bruce Hangen, who moonlights as principal guest conductor of the Boston Pops.

But the chief draw, the main reason for making the easy, less-than-two-hour trip, was the debut of young Metropolitan Opera soprano Alexandra Deshorties in the demanding title role.

The Canadian singer joined the Met in bit parts in 1999 and obviously is being groomed for stardom by the opera company and its artistic director (and Boston Symphony Orchestra music director designate), James Levine.

Deshorties already is controversial. In January, she made headlines for being loudly booed during a Met performance conducted by Levine. And she's a regular subject of lively debate in Internet groups devoted to opera.

Suffice to say, all the fuss, pro and con, was justified by her Portland appearance. Slim and standing at about6 feet tall - and with hair piled high adding what seemed like another foot - she had a striking, if slightly awkward, stage presence.

Her voice sounded big, flexible, dark and voluptuous - qualities that made it (too?) easy to excuse a not entirely reliable technique and paint-peeling top notes. Was it a disappointment or a blessing that she skipped both climactic high E-flats - unwritten but traditionally expected - in Lucia's famous Mad Scene?

The find of the night was another young Met artist, tenor Garrett Sorenson, as Lucia's lover, Edgardo. Until a disappointing finish - he covered well but nearly came to grief - Sorenson demonstrated a beautiful, nicely cultivated voice that marks him as one to watch. Met veteran bass John Cheek was an authoritative Raimondo, the family chaplain. Torre's Enrico, alas, consistently underwhelmed.

Lord, who restored the traditional cuts in the score, conducted with the keen attention to the singers this opera demands but doesn't always get. The simple, beautifully effective staging was by Dona D. Vaughn.

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