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Courtesy of Toledo Blade, 2015- Published Sunday, April 19, 2015
Dramatic coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek is no stranger to Toledo Opera audiences. She earned local fandom as Zerlina in Verdi’s powerful Don Giovanni during the company’s 2013 production.
And, in a showcase of her artistic diversity, Lewek also was soloist that year in the Toledo Symphony’s performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Still, when she takes on the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor, the Donizetti showcase that’s the final season production Friday and April 26, she will be stepping into one of the two top coloratura roles in all of opera.
“Lucia was a dream role,” said Lewek from Charlotte, where she was on break from rehearsals with Opera Carolina.
James Meena conducted productions there last weekend. Cast, sets, costumes, and everyone but chorus and orchestra will travel north for next weekend’s shows in the Valentine Theatre.
“Lucia has been on my list since before I was a coloratura soprano,” said Lewek. “I’ve wished I could sing it since I was a mezzo in college.” (She attended the Eastman School of Music, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.)
Yes, unlike most female voices which gradually darken and trend downward on the scale, Lewek’s voice has moved higher, much, much higher.
“I always knew I had these freakish high notes,” said Lewek. “I thought it was like a man and his falsetto.”
(“Freakish high notes” typically start at C or D above the musical staff and go up to F or even higher.)
Careful technique allowed Lewek to access and then control those notes without gaps. Yet she managed to maintain and develop the rich mezzo quality of a star like Marilyn Horne, with whom Lewek studied on a fellowship.
Suddenly, her career rocketed as Lewek became a perfect fit for Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. “Queen of the Night is the highest role in the coloratura repertoire,” Lewek said. Sopranos are expected to hit that high F over and over at a fast pace.
Her popularity in the Mozart role has taken her around the world, starting in Berlin where she had a year’s residency with Deutsche Oper Berlin, and then to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, among many other companies.
Still, Lucia beckoned.
When Meena booked Lewek for his revival of Donizetti’s 1837 opera, she felt ready for what is considered the premiere challenge for a coloratura: Lucia’s 18-minute aria, the “mad scene” (Spargi D’Amaro Pianto or Shed Thou One Tear) in Act III.
It’s the denouement of the entire story arc, an Italian version of Sir Walter Scott’s Gothic tale.
Lucia, still in mourning for her mother, is ordered by her brother, Henry, to marry wealthy Lord Arthur Bucklaw.
To Henry, it’s the quick way to financial salvation.
To Lucia, it’s repudiation of her love for family enemy Sir Edgar Ravenswood.
Henry’s machinations leave Lucia doubting Edgar’s fidelity. Finally, as the arranged marriage is carried out, she becomes deranged, murdering her bridegroom before dying of heartbreak.
No one has ever gone mad so musically.
To Lewek, the scene — and the role — are, first of all, theater.
“I’m an actress first and a singer second,” she said, adding that she appreciates stage director Bernard Uzan’s portrayal of Lucia as a strong woman. (Uzan directed Toledo’s 2014 Faust.)
In central roles are two other singers to watch: baritone Hyung Yun (Enrico), and tenor Zach Borichevsky (Edgardo).
“These are the stars you’re going to hear about in the coming years,” Meena said. “This is an ideal opportunity to see them before they become the next generation’s marquee names.”
Hyung Yun also has sung in many Met productions, but not in Toledo, so this is his local debut.
Borichevsky is cutting a swath through major opera houses in the United States and abroad.
Returning to Toledo will be tenor Joshua Stewart (Arturo), last heard here as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni.
Meena will conduct the performances, with the Toledo Symphony in the pit and the Toledo Opera Chorus onstage.
The performance is to be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Tickets are $30 to $75 for the Friday show, $30 to $70 on Sunday at toledoopera.org or 419-255-7464.