Neill seems to have arrived fully grown in opera. He commands the stage vocally, but also has presence and dynamism to enhance his singing prowess. While he was singing, this production came to life and suggested theatrical possibilities. Without him, the scenes were studied, careful, and so thin dramatically that the presence of a director seemed an unconfirmed rumor.
The tenor's first scene with O'Flynn brought focus and musical urgency to the work, and when the sextet began in the second act, Neill's voice supplied most of the expressiveness and glow.
O'Flynn brought musicianship and accuracy to her role. When a climactic high note had to be sung, she sang it precisely. She is almost transparent in the role, however. Is she a desperate young woman, tyrannized by her brother and customs? Not much sign of it. And the mad scene - that extended scene in which she can do everything and anything - she was unconvincing and her range was one of contrivance - lifting this or that hand, turning carefully, following a plan.
Some Lucias are ranting madwomen, some are paralyzed, some project layers of sanity, anger, desperation and psychotic glee. O'Flynn is still at the threshold of a portrayal; her singing of that scene, while detailed and accurate, was almost devoid of expressive depth. The chorus is there to reflect whatever the Lucia may be, and in this production, the director put the chorus in darkness. It had nothing to do but be there.
None of the singers was served by the direction. James de Blasis found no way to develop an atmosphere of scheming and dark doings in the Scottish castle. His singers stood and sang, and because he decided that each should be spotlighted on a dark stage, the result was oratorio-like. The sextet began in darkness with one spot, then others as each singer joined. The last two - Alisa and Arturo - weren't quite in the lights. The device had all the drama of talking heads on television, and drained the scenes.
John Hancock, the baritone singing Enrico, needs direction to sharpen his role. A towering figure with a big centered voice, he seemed a diffident tyrant. His voice in the ensembles was substantial and his opening aria set the work off with admirable intensity, but his singing was generally louder or softer, but monochromatic.
The smaller roles were helpful. Matthew Bitteti sang both Arturo and Normanno, and Suzanne DuPlantis lent a dark voice to enhance the scenes with Lucia. Raymond Aceto found his footing in the third act, to introduce the mad scene.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR Additional performances: 8 p.m. Friday and next Wednesday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Academy of Music. Tickets: $18-$130. Information: 215-893-1999.