Lucia di Lammermoor
Lucia di Lammermoor and Vincenzo Bellini.
Lucia di Lammermoor premiered in Naples on the 26th of September 1835. The theatre was San Carlo, the main Naples Opera House and it was a huge success. So big, in fact, that Gaetano Donizetti, who never used to comment on his own successes, wrote a letter to a friend:
– Allow me to go beyond the usual modesty, but the audience liked my new opera… They really liked it…
Tragically the other of the two Italian composers most associated with Belcanto, Vincenzo Bellini died just three days before, on September 23. Donizetti was an admirer of Bellini, but that sentiment wasn’t mutual. Bellini didn’t think much of Donizetti. He thought him to be somewhat careless with the accuracy…
Donizetti was an incredibly prolific composer with more than 70 operas composed during his lifetime. Even for his time, this was an extraordinary figure. To be able to keep that kind of productivity, he had to be inventive. And it is not controversial to claim that he sometimes was less concerned with the quality than he was with the quantity. Some of his antagonists changed his name to the derogatory “Dozzinetti” meaning “cheap”.
Anyway, another episode that inflated the rivalry between the two happened in Paris earlier that year, 1835. Bellini premiered with his I Puritani, while Donizetti set up Marin Faliero… Same theatre, same cast. A great battle between the two most famous Belcanto composers. The comparison didn’t go well for Donizetti.
But even though it could have been said that he lost in Paris, that didn’t slow him down in his eagerness to produce new material. And he got his rematch in Naples only a few months later. Lucia di Lammermoor premiered at San Carlo that same year with acclamation. In the years to come, he would go on to write his most accomplished works with titles like La Fille du régiment, La Favorite, and of course the magnificent Don Pasquale
For Bellini, I Puritani was his last opera.
Premiere – Settembre 26, 1835, Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Italy.
Composer – Gaetano Donizetti
Librettist – Salvadore Cammarano
Something about the disposition:
Cammarano originally wrote two parts, The Departure and The Marriage, of which the second was divided into two acts. Later, Donizetti changed that into the normal three acts. Today you may come across both these setups, with the three-act version more common.
The length of the opera varies a great deal. It can be as short as two hours, and as long as three not counting the intervalls. The duration depends on which of the many versions is used, and obviously on what is cut out and what is left in of that version. Lucia di Lammermoor is for many reasons one of the Operas ever composed with the most variations both in the disposition of the scenes but also within the musical pieces with changes in notes and keys.
Therefore I will not give a timestamp for the acts.
There is no real Overture. A short Prelude that starts with a dramatic and for the time unusual big drum (grancassa).
The total length is 2,30 hours plus intervalls, give or take half an hour. The last act is normally the longest.
In Italian (or French)
Main characters (original English names by Scott in brackets)
Lucia Ashton (Lucy): Light Soprano… In love with Edgardo. More about the voice of Lucia here.
Edgardo di Ravenswood (Edgar): Lyric Tenor (Possibly a Light-Lyric). The last heir of the Ravenswood family… In love with Lucia. More about the voice of Edgardo here.
Lord Enrico Ashton (Henry): Dramatic Baritone. Now Lord of the Ravenwood castle. Lucia’s brother
Arturo Bucklaw (Arthur): Light Tenor. Wealthy suitor of Lucia.
Raimondo Bidebent (Raimond): Bass. Chaplain and Lucia’s educator.
Alisa (Alice): Mezzo-soprano. Lucia’s handmaid.
Normanno (Norman): Tenor. Captain of the Guard at Ravenswood
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Sir Walter Scott and North European literature.
The influence Walter Scott had on European and American literature cannot be overrated. His novels were translated into all major European languages and were immensely popular in the 19th century. So popular in fact that no less than four Italian operas already existed based on Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor before Donizetti’s.
In 1834 Donizetti was the director of the San Carlo Opera in Naples, and as such he was to compose operas. He had already written ten operas for the Neapolitan Opera House when his gaze landed on Walter Scott’s masterpiece. The novel was already well distributed and appreciated in Naples, and that was in no way an obvious fact. Italy was kind of slow, to receive books from Northern Europe in those years. But Walter Scott’s novels were just as popular in Naples as further north.
Donizetti loved The Bride of Lammermoor. When he started working on the opera, he wanted to explore a newly found sensitivity. He included a whole arsenal of details to paint a dark, foggy setting in the southern Scottish hills with an emphasis on the scary and unruly inner parts of our minds. Especially the famous mad-scene in the third act is strikingly effective. Lucia di Lammermoor turned out something of a musical Film Noir, an Operatic thriller from the early 19th century…
Background – The Opera Lucia di Lammermoor is set in…
Scotland, Lammermuir Hills.
The time is the early 18th century.
The Ashtons have seized the assets and the castle of the Ravenswood family. In Scott’s novel, the Ravenwoods lost everything after having supported the now-deposed King James VII. The only remaining Ravenswood, and rightfully the heir to the castle is Edgardo. He obviously hates the Ashtons, especially the young master Enrico, Lucia’s brother.
To complicate matters further, Lucia and Edgardo are secretly in love. Enrico is trying to marry Lucia to Lord Arturo Bucklaw who unlike Edgardo has considerable wealth.
First Act – The Departure.
A short Prelude.
Part 1 – The Atrium of Ravenswood Castle.
The men are preparing for a hunting party… Or more like a posse. Because Normanno suspects Lucia of secretly meeting with the enemy, Ravenswood. Enrico arrives and the captain tells him about his suspicions. Then the huntsmen return and they too confirm the name of a dark horseman who had passed them on the trail… Edgardo.
The scene ends with Enrico’s Cabaletta
– La pietade in suo favore (Pity him… The love you feel, I will quench it with blood.)
Part 2 – The Park of the now run-down castle.
Lucia and Alisa are waiting for Edgardo. It’s night.
There’s a rather long scene with a beautiful solo harp introducing Lucia. This could be omitted if sung in French.
An old legend tells about a Ravenswood who infuriated by gelosy, killed his lover right there, by the fountain, in the park. Lucia confesses to Alisa that she’s seen the ghost of the girl. The handmaid pleas her to give up the man that can never be hers, and she fears the vision is a bad omen. Lucia sings her first aria:
– Regnava nel silenzio…
If you don’t recognize that melody, you probably will the following Stretta:
– Quando rapito in estasi…
And right out of the gate, the Soprano has to show if she’s worth the salt. 9 minutes of demanding vocal exercise…
Edgardo arrives. He tells Lucia that he has to leave her for some time. He’s been sent to France to negotiate for Scotland. But before leaving he wants to make peace with Enrico. Lucia denies that, and Edgardo understands that there is no reconciliation to be had.
– He took my father… My ancestral heritage… What more do you want? My complete defeat… My blood?
He calms himself and the two lovers change an oath of eternal love. An oath that in those days in Scottland was of equal or superior importance compared to religious matrimony. The two finish the act with a beautiful duet:
– Verranno a te sull’aure… (My ardent sighs will reach you with the breeze… The echo of my weeping with the whispering sea… )
Second Act – The Mariage.
Part 1 – Enrico’s private chamber.
Let’s set the stage…
Some time has passed.
Without getting too much into the very complicated situation in Britain in those years, the Scottish political situation changed almost from day to day. For Enrico, the support from allies and friends he had counted on is slipping away. And so is his economic situation. The solution to all his problems is to marry Lucia to the rich and influential Arturo Bucklaw.
And to prepare for the difficult task of convincing Lucia to accept the proposal, he has already confiscated all of Lucia’s letters to Edgardo. Moreover, Normanno has falsified a letter, saying that Edgardo has forgotten about her and is about to marry another woman.
Enrico and Lucia meet. The encounter between the two siblings is terrifying. An exercise in manipulation. Enrico tries to talk her into marriage with sweet talk. That doesn’t work so he hands her the letter. Lucia is shocked and devastated. Her world crumbles:
– The moment of death is upon me!
Then he scolds her for her lack of loyalty toward the family:
– This evil love consumed you, and you betrayed your kin for a vile seducer.
Before going back to comforting her. And when festive horns are heard from the distance, Enrico happily declares that the bridegroom has arrived. Lucia is trapped, and maybe this is when we first can detect the approaching madness. They sing the duet:
– Se tradirmi tu potrai… / Tu che vedi il pianto mio…
The next step in this terrible indoctrination comes with Lucia’s friend and tutor, Raimondo, the chaplain. Even he, who represents God, betrays her. He (probably) sings a beautiful aria:
– Al ben de tuoi qual vittima… (The good you do with your sacrifice shall be written in heaven…)
Part 2 – A great Ballroom.
The Ashtons are prepared for the matrimony. The chorus happily sings:
– Per te d’immenso giubilo…
And Arturo presents himself promising Enrico to fix all his problems. But when Lucia enters it is not the enthusiastic bride he expects. Enrico has to “sustain” her with threats.
So we have arrived at the first highlight of the evening. Because just as Lucia has signed the marriage contract, Edgardo rushes in. He has returned from France, and he’s there to claim his bride. All six characters on stage perform:
– Chi mi frena in tal moment…
This is one of those frozen moments that operas, and the way they are structured, are so incredibly suited for. (Compare with the finale of the first act of The Barber of Seville.). Time stops and everybody reflects on their own feelings and situation.
So, after that, Edgardo and Enrico start to fight but they’re interrupted by Raimondo. When Edgardo is shown the marriage document he redirects his anger to Lucia:
– You have betrayed Heaven and love. Cursed be the moment, when I fell in love with you…
The act finishes with great confusion. Edgardo asks them to kill him…
– Over my bloodless corpse she will tread more gayly to the altar…
If you listen carefully, you might hear the chorus sing a short excerpt from the finale of the first act of Verdi’s Nabucco “Mio Furor, Non Piu Costretto…”. It wasn’t only Donizetti who borrowed from others. Others borrowed from him too…
… And Edgardo might want to show off and sing a high D at the end. It’s not written but really cool if he manages to do it well.
Part 1 – Wolf’s Crag
This whole scene can be omitted if the opera is performed in French.
The tower of Wolf’s Crag is where Edgardo Ravenswood has been living in exile since his family lost titles and estates. Enrico shows up to taunt him.
– … She is now in her bridal chamber, enjoying her marriage bed…
They argue and decide once and for all to resolve their quarrels. As always happens in these kinds of stories, they shall have a duel… At dawn… The following day.
Part 2 – Back at the Ballroom.
According to the tradition at the time, the opera should finish here, with the death of the Primadonna. But Donizetti proceeds to tell us about the fate of Edgardo.
Part 3 – The Graveyard of the Ravenswood.
Edgardo is waiting for the duel. He sings his most famous aria, or should I say arias. For just as with Lucia, Edgardo finishes off with three arias and practically 20 minutes of singing. It’s a marathon…
He comes to know about Lucia’s death and falls into even deeper despair. When Enrico shows up for the duel, he pulls out a dagger and kills himself…
– I will follow you…
But prior to that, he sings his most famous aria:
– Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali… (O, sweet loving heart, look down on me serenely and let your true love soar up to join you…)
What to look out for.
Second part – begins with a harp solo. Possibly the stage isn’t lit yet.
About 10 minutes into the second part – You hear the harp, accompanying the flutes. Lucia sings Quando rapito in estasy
At the end of the final duet, check if the tenor does the written Eb5 just before the final cadenze.
First part – shows how the men manipulate poor Lucia. Look how the director has staged the indoctrination.
Second part – begins with the chorus D’immenso giubilo.
About 5 -10 minutes into the second part Edgardo enters and they all perform Chi mi frena in tal momento.
Is there a first part at the Wolf’s Crag at all? If not, the third act starts at the wedding party.
A few minutes in Raimondo tells the party about Lucia’s terrible deed.
8 -10 minutes in Lucia appears… And the long mad-scene starts. Is there a glass harmonica or is it a flute?
At the Graveyard. About five minutes after the chorus tells Edgardo Lucia is dead, he starts his final aria Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali. In the beginning, there’s C#5 which should be very soft. This note is often omitted.
This scene is one of the most famous scenes of all the opera literature, and surely the most known exhibition of madness in music. It is long and extremely demanding. Not only do you need an extraordinary vocal technique, but you also have to have good acting skills… Remember she is mad. Modern directors like to show her drenched in blood.
The scene is formal and follows the musical regulation of the time. It is divided into four parts:
- Il dolce suono… (Recitativo)
- Ardon gl’incensi… (Cavatina)
- S’avanza Enrico… (Tempo di mezzo)
- Spargi d’amaro pianto… (Cabaletta)
All this doesn’t really matter to an average listener. It’s interesting though, to understand how a composer could bend and twist a formal schedule to fit his specific intentions.
Lucia imagines Edgardo, her lover. And she imagines the beautiful harmonies of a celestial hymn sounding for their matrimony. Donizetti wrote in a Glass harmonica into the score. They had a true maestro on that instrument at San Carlo, called Domenico Pezzi. He was supposed to play together with Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, the first-ever Lucia.
But Pezzi quarreled with the impresario of the theatre and left. So, Donizetti was forced to let a flute play all the long embellishments he had written for the glass harmonica. And for a very long time, no one knew about the composer’s original intentions.
Until 1941 when an original manuscript was found, and the Glas harmonica version was finally restored. Today, most major Opera Houses use the Glas harmonica, while smaller theatres do not. When the mad-scene is performed in concert, it is practically always with the flute.
The importance of Donizetti’s opera
Lucia di Lammermoor is Donizetti’s most famous and most played Opera Seria, serious and tragic opera. It is also an important work in the history of music. For the history of Opera, it is so important that one could almost perceive a before and after Lucia di Lammermoor.
The librettist was Salvadore Cammarano and at the time he was young and rather inexperienced. It is possible that Donizetti found this to be particularly favorable because it gave him the possibility to steer the workflow toward where he wanted it to go. Before Lucia, the process of writing operas was slightly different. The text was usually the first thing to be written. Then the composer wrote music to the words.
With Salvatore Cammaro, Donizetti had an expert writer who was eager to follow him to whatever goal he set up. And that gave more control to the composer, and a better synthesis between words and melody. In fact, Donizetti preferred to work together with his librettist… To actually sit in the same room, composing together. The usual procedure was otherwise to send the material back and forth by post.
Composers wanting to have more control over the words was a tendency that has increased ever since. One who followed in Donizetti’s footsteps was Giuseppe Verdi. He interestingly collaborated with Cammarano in four of his operas (Il Trovatore).
The voice of Lucia.
In modern times, the role of Lucia is almost exclusively done by a light soprano… Possibly a light lyric with very good agility. The long arias with embellishments in a high register are not really very fast. It’s not like the coloraturas of, let’s say, Rossini. But you need to be able to sing in a very weak voice very high for a long time… And it has to be beautiful and in tone.
A Lyric Soprano normally cannot do that without getting tired. And if you get tired, the long soft tones will come out harsh and unpleasant.
On the other hand, she can do well with some dark and dramatic timbre in her voice. Some parts are quite low and dramatic expressing desperation, and anguish (1st part Act 2). In fact, the great musicologist, Rodolfo Celletti, declares that Lucia should be an Agile Dramatic Soprano and not a Light Soprano.
The first ever Lucia, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, was such a voice. And so was the fabulous Maria Callas who had enormous success with the part. But, again, these voices are difficult to find today. And if you have to choose, it is definitely better to have a beautiful mad-scene than to have a beautiful second act, just to then have a Lucia that sounds tired and out of tune later on. And thus, we should go for the light soprano.
The voice of Edgardo.
When Lucia di Lammermoor was first performed in Naples in 1835, Edgardo was sung by Gilbert Duprez. His newly invented style of singing everything in chest voice, even the high notes, influenced greatly the composer. And Lucia do Lammermoor is probably the first opera written specifically for a modern tenor.
Still, it seems like Donizetti didn’t really know exactly how to write for this new voice. Somehow he fell back into an older style with coloraturas, and extreme heights. At the end of the first act, there’s a short Eb5, and that is definitely out of range for a normal Lyric Tenor.
Today, the part of Edgardo is mostly sung by light lyric tenors or lyric tenors. The many versions and different keys make it easy to find a tessitura and style that fits any good and reasonably light tenor. The highest notes are optional or can easily be omitted. But much like with the role of Lucia, a reasonably lyric voice with extremely good heights (maybe like Javier Camerena) would be the perfect Edgardo.
The color should be reasonably warm though. There has to be a difference between Edgardo and Arturo. Lucia falls in love with the warmer and fuller voice of the two.