PRINCETON - Just when you think you've had your fill of the crazed operatic character Lucia di Lammermoor and her high-flying "Mad Scene," some new singer comes along to jolt your senses and rivet your attention.

Such was the case when soprano Lisette Oropesa made her role debut as Donizetti's doomed heroine on opening night of Opera New Jersey in Princeton. The Louisiana-born singer's silky, honeyed voice is very agile, with accurate runs, shimmering glissandos and floating pianissimo tones; her shaping of the long bel canto lines was impressive.

And Oropesa was no slouch as an actress, especially in the "Mad Scene" where she aptly conveyed Lucia's wildly fluctuating moods. Oropesa reached for that final E-flat, the bane of many sopranos, with ease, holding it in full voice while the rapt audience collectively held its breath.

Tenor Jonathan Boyd, who portrayed Lucia's beloved, Edgardo, has a robust and appealing voice, but his tendency to push caused some top notes to frazzle, and his vocal lines lacked subtlety and flow. It's no picnic for any tenor to tackle the opera's final, anticlimactic scene (only the greatest can really carry it off), but here Boyd's singing did take on some delicacy and shading.

The role of Enrico, Lucia's coldhearted brother, was sung by baritone Eric Dubin, whose sonorous voice and authoritative presence were well-suited to the part. Dubin did not capture all aspects of the character; cold-blooded though Enrico is, he also is a man tormented by the fall from power of his family clan. When he finally realizes he is responsible for his sister's death, his terrible sense of guilt should be, but wasn't here, a high point of the opera.

Bass Rubin Casas, who filled in as Raimondo, the family chaplain, provided a fully drawn characterization, though there was something of a wobble in his voice.

A chamber group from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Ching, played stylishly and well, the French horns and solo flute and harp deserving of special kudos.

John Hoomes' stage direction was successfully melodramatic. Dead people kept showing up, including Lucia, seen as both a corpse and a spirit who welcomes Edgardo to heaven. Earlier, Lucia's bridegroom, Arturo, whom she kills before he's had anything much to sing, is paraded among the wedding guests on a bier, one bloody arm swaying back and forth.

Set designs by Carey Wong were traditional and solemnly beautiful, especially as lit by Barry Steele, who created some phantasmagoric images of other family ghosts. Lucia di Lammermoor is a pretty spooky opera.

Lucia di Lammermoor

Music by Gaetano Donizetti based on Sir Walter Scott's "The Bride of Lammermoor."

Michael Ching, conductor; John Hoomes, stage director.

Cast:

Lisette Oropesa (Lucia)

Jonathan Boyd (Edgardo)

Eric Dubin (Enrico)

Taylor Stayton (Arturo)

Set design by Carey Wong, costumes by Patricia Hibbert.

Performances: Saturday and July 26 at the Matthews Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton.

Tickets: 609-258-2787 or www.opera-nj.org.EndText