I have been studying the role of Lucia over the last few months. For those who don't know, Lucia di Lammermoor is about a young heroine caught in the middle of a feud involving her family and the Ravenswoods. Her brother Enrico tricks her into marrying Arturo, in order to restore his family's political status. However, Lucia is in love with Enrico's mortal enemy, Edgardo (who is, of course, the tenor). :) Upon being accused of betrayal by Edgardo, Lucia goes insane and murders Arturo, culminating in her famous mad scene. Upon hearing of her subsequent death, Edgardo then kills himself.
It has been a rewarding experience. There is an interview Thomas Hampson once gave, in which he said something I find highly pertinent. He said, "Imagine that a composer is being whispered to by the muse (as we non-mused people might imagine), and the muse, after imparting inspiration, says that there’s one catch: you gotta do it with lines and dots." (Here is a link to the article.) One of the most rewarding parts of learning a role is figuring out exactly what all of those lines and dots mean, and figuring out all the different ways you can express yourself through them.
As I've been learning and coaching the role of Lucia, it has been fascinating to see how singing the same phrase different ways changes an interpretation. As she asks Edgardo is he is truly going to abandon her, in tears, you can sing it in a wistful way. You can also sing it in an urgent and desperate way, as if urging Edgardo not to leave her. It's also incredible seeing how you can use the music to paint the words in the role. For example, Lucy Arner pointed out to me how, when Lucia tells her confidante Alisa at the beginning of the opera the story of how a girl was murdered long ago, I can use the slide of the voice in the portamento written there to viscerally depict her falling to her death.
Also, there was a coaching in which I was working on the love duet between Lucia and Edgardo in Act 1, in which they swear to be true to each other, but not before he denounces her family for destroying the lives of the Ravenswoods. Joan Dornemann pointed out to me that, while Lucia then sings a soothing melody to him, telling him to calm himself, Lucia herself isn't calm at all, especially since she says to him immediately afterwards that one wrong word could betray their forbidden love. Because of that, I could sing the first note of each phrase of that part of the duet forte, while then scaling back on the dynamic level. Of course, while every interpretation that I do would vary with any given production, conductor, and director, being aware of the many different ways you can express yourself in the same role is valuable. The idea that all of these interpretive strokes are merely the tip of the iceberg with this role is an exciting prospect to me.
It was also fascinating to explore all the chromatic notes in Lucia's mad scene with Laetitia Ruccolo to see how twisted she can seem--after all, she isn't simply a "harmless crazy person" once she snaps. She stabs her bridegroom, and comes onstage with a wedding gown covered in blood. She is definitely someone to be afraid of, and I need to do my best to show that, while also showing her pain of losing Edgardo.
Everything I have just written about is merely a small sampling of the many different musical and dramatic insights there are, and are possible, in Lucia di Lammermoor. It is unbelievable to me that this opera was perceived for decades as simply a vocal showpiece for the soprano, until sopranos such as Maria Callas, Virginia Zeani, and Joan Sutherland revived it and showed all the dramatic possibilities in it.
The best part of all of this is seeing how the role will evolve, and all the different ways I'm going to be looking at the role over time. The process of learning a new role, and learning anything new in opera, is one of my favorite parts of being an opera singer. It's a privilege.