Never mind how many festivals spring up in Queensland, there always seems to be room for another.

Opera Queensland’s performance of Lucia di Lammermoor on April 20, starring Australian coloratura soprano Jessica Pratt, launched the company’s week-long Brisbane Bel Canto festival.

Bel canto refers to a style of beautiful singing that has a tendency to slow and speed up. It’s spliced with short improvisatory solos and heavily ornamented melodies. Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland were cherished bel canto sopranos.

These days, Australian Pratt, now based in Florence, is one of the world’s go-to coloratura soloists.

Based on Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, the Ravenswood and Ashton families are feuding. The setting is the Scottish Highlands in the 17th century. Lucia, the heroine, is vulnerable, an idealistic innocent who falls for Edgardo, Carlos Barcenas, one of her family’s arch enemies.

Manipulated by the men in her life, Lucia is coerced into marriage by Enrico, her bad-ass brother admirably sung by Samuel Dundas. First, he skewers Lucia’s heart by telling her that Edgardo, her secretly betrothed, has been unfaithful. Then he bullies her into marrying Arturo – Virgilio Marino in this production.

Incidentally, for those who think the story is out of date, since March 2024 coercive control is now a crime in Queensland that carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Nolan’s firm directorial approach delivers prop-free abstract staging with a 6m-high wooden wall painted to look like mahogany that glows in shades of green-cum-grey and maroon and black, thanks to Christine Felmingham’s lighting design.

Karen Cochet and Bianca Bulley’s costumes are fashioned in an austere pallet of soft to harsh greys. The women’s functional yet smart dresses are designed from mattress covers, with cream neck ruffs. The men wear garments of concrete grey with white shirts.

Initially, the lack of colour gnaws at the senses, but soon the absence of opera’s traditional vivid chintz, glitter, glam and gilded clutter builds tension and gives the arias, which in bel canto operas drive the narrative along, a luminating emphasis. After all, there’s an ocean of tonal colour in Donizetti’s arias and Pratt’s stunning voice is a treasure trove of kaleidoscopic hues.

When it comes to the supportive roles, local singer Hayley Sugars wrenches every dramatic nuance from the limiting role of Alisa, Lucia’s loyal attendant. David Parkin as Calvinist priest Raimondo invested convincing compassion and heart and a pleasing tone in his solos. Normanno was ably conjured by Iain Henderson.

Donizetti’s orchestra, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in this instance, provides a supportive accompaniment rather than the showy listen-to-me emotive force explored by Puccini and Verdi. Richard Mills’ conducting was commanding and insightful and he demonstrated a keen rapport with the soloists who were allowed to shine.

Alison Mitchell, the flautist who in Il Dolce Suono mirrored the push and pull of Lucia’s exposed utterings with dovetailed precision, deserves an immediate pay rise. The woodwind’s arpeggiated undertow had satisfying clarity and the harpist in Regnava nel silenzio played with gravitas.

By Act 3, Lucia’s mind is shattered. Trippy and delusional, she appears at the festive wedding celebration in a blood-soaked nightgown.

Pratt is magnificent as Lucia and her performance of the infamously challenging Il Dolce Suono, which can be a career maker or breaker, was brilliant, authentic and superbly paced. Unforgettable.

Having performed Lucia up to 100 times, Pratt knows each nook and cranny, the smooth grassy plains and every mountainous peak and treacherous descent in this notoriously challenging lament.

Her entire range is strong and centred and she can sing the highest note even at a hushed tone with a sustained and beautiful sound. The dynamics can shift from robust to whispered within the briefest phrase.

Donizetti’s florid and embellished melodies of rapid repetitions, scalic runs and vocal slides were fully integrated into the aria’s outpouring of Lucia’s grieving scattered mind.

Barcenas as Lucia’s lover hit his stride in the final stretch, his voice impassioned, expressive and his sorrow relatable.

This is a strong production, thoroughly entertaining and a chance in a lifetime to hear an astonishingly remarkable soprano. Listening to her sing can be compared to attending a performance of Jacqueline du Pres’ signature Elgar Cello Concerto.

Having secured Pratt to play Lucia, quite a coup, it’s not surprising Opera Queensland created a week-long event around her. On April 24, Pratt, tenors Barcenos and Rosaria La Spina and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra perform spectacular hits by Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini.

Opera Queensland’s artistic director Patrick Nolan deserves credit for creating a daytime event on April 26 with Maggie Beer, as her opera-inspired lunch will be interspersed with performances by Opera Queensland’s Sarah Crane, Hayley Sugars, Virgilio Marino and Shaun Brown.

Also on April 26, Opera Queensland and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music are performing Rossini’s Stabat Mater, which represents the period’s wealth of glorious church music.

Jessica Pratt in Concert, April 24, 7pm, Concert Hall, QPAC; Stabat Mater, April 26, 7.30pm, Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank; Lucia di Lammermoor, April 27, 2pm, Lyric Theatre, QPAC

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