Quinn Kelsey, Albina Shagimuratova, and Adrian Sampetrean Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Lucia di Lammermoor
is scheduled in Lyric Opera’s fall season between two massive new productions: the steampunk spectacle of Das Rheingold (which you can still catch on Saturday), and Les Troyens, opening next month.

But this show is something else: a minimalist, 20-year-old (though new-to-Chicago) staging of Gaetano Donizetti’s 19th-century, bloody-bride warhorse. Your grandmother’s bel canto opera, in a good way. There’s more “stand and sing” than fancy stagecraft: the fireworks are left to the vocal performances, which include a famously gorgeous sextet.   

Adapted by Donizetti’s librettist, Salvadore Cammarano, from Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, Lucia is a Romeo and Juliet story, set among the gloomy cliffs of 18th-century Scotland. As conceived by director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown, the opera plays out in a spare, symbolic landscape, mostly occupied by heather and a barren, windswept tree, under a huge, obviously fake white moon. Guest conductor Enrique Mazzola led the excellent Lyric Opera Orchestra and chorus.

Donizetti’s Scots wear plaid but sing in Italian. So Lucia (Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova) is in love with Edgardo (Polish tenor Piotr Beczala), though her brother, Enrico (Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey), forces her to marry Arturo (Ryan Opera Center tenor Jonathan Johnson) in order to save the family fortune. After fatally knifing her bridegroom on the wedding night, Lucia descends into an extended maniacal scene that’s all about vocal acrobatics.

On opening night, Shagimuratova rose to the occasion with the agility, clarity, and power that has made her the go-to Lucia in opera houses from the Met to La Scala. Beczala was elegant as her impetuous lover and the entire cast turned in first-rate performances. But the one who knocked me out was Ryan Center alum and local favorite Kelsey as Lucia’s brutal and desperate brother, Enrico. From the moment that he lurched onto the stage, unleashing a more-distinctive-than-remembered, emotionally charged voice, he owned the part. It was a memorable dramatic performance in a night of spectacular singing.

Lucia di Lammermoor Through November 6: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, lyricopera.org, $17-$249.