BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
In past seasons, Opera Tampa audiences have enjoyed performances by a petite young soprano named Rachel Watkins. She had leading roles in a pair of French operas by Gounod, as Juliette in Romeo et Juliette and Marguerite in Faust.
The soprano, originally from Texas, is back again this season to sing the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, but now she has a new name — Elizabeth de Trejo. "Isn't it dramatic?'' she said last week.
De Trejo got married in August to a Mexican tenor, Mauricio Trejo, and after deciding to take on his last name and use it professionally, she also began using her middle name. "I just feel like Elizabeth de Trejo fits a little better than Rachel de Trejo,'' she said.
It is rare for an opera singer or any other performer to start using her married name midcareer when she has an established reputation under her family name.
"The decision to do it professionally was a big one,'' de Trejo said. "I feel like having my husband's name is a very strong way of communicating to the world that I am a new person.''
The name change hasn't seemed to hurt her prospects for work. The soprano, who lives in New York, joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera this season to cover the role of the 15-year-old girl in Berg's Lulu.
De Trejo is singing Lucia for the first time in this weekend's performances. It is one of opera's most daunting roles, full of freakishly high singing, all the way up to E flat above high C. "It's a little bit of a tightrope walk, but one that has to be done with confidence and grace at the same time,'' she said.
Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the most popular operas in the 19th century Italian style of bel canto — "beautiful singing.'' Adapted from The Bride of Lammermoor, a melodramatic novel by Sir Walter Scott, set in the Scottish border country, it is about a woman who murders her husband on their wedding night. Lucia's mad scene is an unhinged tour de force for a soprano with the dramatic and technical talent to bring it off.
The role of Lucia, whose legendary interpreters include Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Anna Moffo and Montserrat Caballe, "shows everything that the voice is able to do,'' de Trejo said. "Long, flowing lines. Soft, spinning high notes. Loud high notes. Lots of motion in the voice. Agility. Trills. And it all has to be done with gracefully controlled breath. The beauty of tone is supreme.''
The Opera Tampa production, conducted by Anton Coppola, features the virtual theater design of German director Joachim Schamberger. Instead of a physical set, the opera is performed to video projections. This worked well in Schamberger's staging of Puccini's Suor Angelica last February.
De Trejo is excited by a virtual Lucia di Lammermoor, while acknowledging that Schamberger's approach puts a lot of power in the hands of the director.
"With lighting and projections that move and are in real time, he's able to suggest the thoughts that are underneath the characters' lines, or whatever a theme is,'' she said. "With a projection, he is able to physically tell you what the subtext is, and he controls that. Because those projections are his creation. He's designed the entire look. It's his baby.''
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs. tampabay.com/arts.