By Lawrence Budmen

Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is the quintessential bel canto opera. With its Romeo and Juliet story of doomed lovers from rival Scottish clans Lucia was one of the first great romantic music dramas. Beautiful singing is what bel canto opera is all about. Saturday evening's opening performance of the Florida Grand Opera's production of Donizetti's masterpiece was slow to catch fire but offered two gifted young singers who rose to the opera's ultimate vocal challenges.

Leah Hunt Partridge was a grandly tragic Lucia. Her vocal production in the first act seemed covered and overly cautious. In the famous Act 3 Mad Scene she threw caution to the winds and scored a singular triumph. Her scintillating coloratura soprano soared effortlessly in the vocal stratosphere. Partridge added glittering ornamentation to Donizetti's vocal line. Notes around high C and above had the bell like solidity of Joan Sutherland or Lily Pons. Her crazed portrayal of the tragic heroine had frightening immediacy. The singer and role seemed to merge as one. 

A tall, dark and handsome presence on stage James Valenti as Edgardo revealed a tenor voice with true Italianate squillo. His Act 1 duet with Ms. Partridge was less than well coordinated and strangely tentative. With the concertante Sextet in the second act he came into his own. His robust, vociferous singing was stirring. In the tragic final scene Valenti essayed honeyed pianissimos and brought impassioned drama to Edgardo's sacrifice. 

As Enrico Ashton Albert Schagidullin was a stock villain with a gruff, coarse baritone voice. His scooping up toward high notes was the antithesis of bel canto. Kevin Langan brought a rich, solid bass to Raimondo's pronouncements. In Arturo's brief cavatina Brian Anderson's dulcet tones and aristocratic phrasing revealed a promising lyric tenor. The artists worked within the confines of Robert O' Hearn's shopworn production which has seen better days. 

Stewart Robertson conducted a lively performance with plenty of dramatic punch and commanded incisive playing from the orchestra. Despite some production shortcomings the talented soprano and tenor turned Lucia's madness into a finale of memorable song. 

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