La Monnaie (Cirque Royal), Sunday April 26 2009
Conductor: Julian Reynolds. Production: Guy Joosten. Lucia: Elena Mosuc. Edgardo di Ravenswood: John Osborn. Lord Enrico Ashton: Angelo Veccia. Lord Arturo Bucklaw: Jean-François Borras. Raimondo Bidebent: Giorgio Giuseppini. Alisa: Catherine Keen. Normanno: Carlo Bosi. La Monnaie orchestra and chorus. Glass harmonica: Sascha Reckert.
One of the striking things about Brussels is that, unlike in Paris, say, or New York, you see old people everywhere. The Taverne du Passage opened over 80 years ago, since when nothing has changed (“immuable” is the word used on the website), and that seems to include the customers: the regulars look like they’ve been eating a weekly Waterzoï in that art-deco setting since the 1920s. The couple next to us on Sunday were so ancient that all they could manage for lunch was a glass of beer; soup and bread; a heaped chafing-dish of lamb chops, with potato croquettes, asparagus and a jug of red wine on the side; and rum babas to finish. They didn’t even take coffee. Many of these regulars go on, after lunch, to La Monnaie: I have often called our Sunday Matinee subscription the “pensioners’ special.” And if, as I’ve mentioned in my reports, applause at La Monnaie is usually discreet, however good the performance, it’s probably because half the audience are doddery and the other half asleep.
It was quite a surprise, therefore, to see the burghers rising to give last Sunday’s Lucia a standing ovation – the first I’ve seen in Brussels in the last 20 years. This was a remarkable achievement for a house that, on the whole, can’t afford to pay stars (at least once they’re out; it was in Brussels that I first heard Villazon, in La Bohème, about a week before he became world famous – a shooting star in his case) but a triumph for the alternative approach taken over the years by La Monnaie: a young but strong, consistent cast, singing and acting with commitment and courage in a good production – and in this case of a popular favourite. Above all, it had that essential feature (without which it isn’t worth turning up at all), a sock-popping Lucia.
Even as the first act went on I slapped myself for nit-picking, as Elena Mosuc’s style is less straightforward, more mannered than I like. But she makes an unusually dark, juicy, fruity Lucia, the notes are certainly there and often very beautiful, and the top ones maintain their body, indeed sound easy. And she had a surprise in store for us at the end of act 1. It was impossible from the programme notes on editions and key changes to tell which one was being used here (though the glass harmonica was naturally unmissable – and it makes the mad scene so much more convincing) but assuming Lucia and Edgardo were ending their duet in Bb, then not only did he pop in, a few bars before the end, an unexpected D, but she, instead of simply rising through the “Addi-i-o” to the final Bb, shot in a top F. I’m not sure I ever heard anything like it before.