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ClassicsOnline Home » DONIZETTI, G.: Lucia di Lammermoor [Opera] (Bergamo Musica Festival, 2006)
Lucia di Lammermoor’s tragic tale of love, feuds, deception, madness and murder has thrilled audiences since its première in 1835. It boasts a fast-moving plot, a strong cast of characters, a brooding Scottish Gothic horror setting and some of Donizetti’s most effective and demanding music, making it the most celebrated bel canto opera in the repertoire. On this live recording from the Donizetti Theatre in Bergamo, Désirée Rancatore gives a fresh and thrilling interpretation of the demanding rôle of the doomed heroine Lucy Ashton, her famous ‘mad scene’ featuring a glass harmonica, Donizetti’s original choice of instrument, rather than the more usual flute, to underline the state of her shattered mind.
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
Dramma tragico in Two Parts and Three Acts
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor
Edition by Gabriele Dotto and Roger Parker
Lucia – Désirée Rancatore
Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood – Roberto De Biasio
Lord Enrico Asthon – Luca Grassi
Raimondo Bidebent – Enrico Giuseppe Iori
Lord Arturo – Matteo Barca
Alisa – Tiziana Falco
Normanno – Vincenzo Maria Sarinelli
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti
Chorus Master: Marina Malavasi
Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
Lucia di Lammermoor was first performed at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, on 26 September 1835.
When Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor was published in June 1819 it received a mixed reception from the critics. Blackwood’s, a popular journal at the time, declared it to be ‘a pure and magnificent tragic romance’, whilst other magazines regarded it as far too gloomy. Based on real-life events of 1669, this tale of love, feuds, deception and madness appealed very greatly to Scott’s more general readership, as well as to some of the librettists and composers of his time; within fifteen years of the novel’s publication at least five operas had been composed, based on the story of Lucia and her unhappy fate. It is no surprise, then, that Salvadore Cammarano relished the prospect of writing the libretto for such an opera himself and that Donizetti took to the idea equally enthusiastically. Scotland and all things Scottish had inspired European librettists and composers for a number of years, thanks largely to Sir Walter and his prodigious literary output, and would continue to do so throughout the nineteenth century. Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Berlioz and Mendelssohn (to name just a few contemporaries) were influenced by the great Scottish writer; in the age of the Romantics, little could seem more suitable for adaptation for the operatic stage than his widely-read novels.
By 1835 Cammarano (1801–1852) was already a seasoned man of the theatre. Having started a career as a playwright, he soon turned to writing texts for opera composers, the first of which was ignominiously rejected by Domenico Barbaia in 1832; but after his successful adaptation of Lucia in 1835 he went from strength to strength and prepared a further seven libretti for Donizetti, including those for Roberto Devereux (1837) and Poliuto (first performed in 1848). He collaborated happily with other composers too, and worked with Verdi on three operas before tackling his last venture—the text for Il trovatore—although he died before that commission was completed.
Donizetti’s first performed opera was Enrico di Borgogna, composed when he was twenty, in 1818. He wrote at an extraordinary speed and during the next 25 years created over sixty operas, some in more than one version, for theatres in Italy, Paris and Vienna; they were almost all immediately successful and many were received with similar enthusiasm elsewhere in Europe and in North America in his lifetime. During the last three years of his life the symptoms of a terrible illness manifested themselves and at the end he was paralysed and barely able to speak. He died in Bergamo, the town of his birth, 25 miles northeast of Milan where, at La Scala and other theatres, some of his greatest successes had first been staged.
If Donizetti were to be remembered by just one work, it would be Lucia di Lammermoor. His comedies L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale were occasionally staged, even when most of his other operas were forgotten, but for almost a century it was on Lucia that his reputation principally rested; it remains the archetypal Romantic Italian tragic opera and the byword for ‘operatic madness’ that Donizetti and his contemporaries popularised in the first half of the nineteenth century. Lucia is a favourite example of the bel canto style—although that term was never used in Donizetti’s own lifetime to describe his compositions.
From the outset, the rôle of Lucia attracted the top coloratura sopranos of their day; her creator was Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani who, in a stage career lasting over 25 years, sang in works by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and, most notably, Donizetti. As well as Lucia, she also graced the premières of both his Rosmonda d’Inghilterra in Florence in 1834 and, three years later, his Pia de’ Tolomei in Venice and subsequently appeared frequently in Paris, Vienna and St Petersburg. Tacchinardi Persiani also sang the first London performances of Lucia, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, in 1838; she was a great favourite with her British public and returned often over the following ten years.
The French tenor Gilbert Duprez, who created the rôle of Edgardo in Naples, had been highly acclaimed in Italy for seven years even before singing in the première of Lucia. His technical prowess was legendary and it was during his later long career at the Paris Opéra that he appeared in the first performance of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, among a Synopsis host of successful rôles. Duprez also enjoyed two popular seasons in London in 1843–4; after his retirement in 1851 he taught at the Paris Conservatoire and composed some light operatic works which, sadly, never gained great popularity.
Following the success of Lucia di Lammermoor in several European opera houses, Donizetti was commissioned to prepare a French version for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris; this required a fresh text with major changes to the music and to some of the characters, one (Alisa) being removed altogether and another (Gilbert) newly created. It became, effectively, a different opera and was originally staged in 1839. It was in this version that North America first saw and heard Lucia (in New Orleans) in 1841 and while it remained popular for some time in French-speaking countries, and has recently been recorded, it is Donizetti’s Italian Lucia that has generally been preferred in the world’s opera houses during the last hundred years.
Apart from the creation of the opera’s French version, other changes have beset Lucia di Lammermoor over the decades, as has so often been the case with operas by Donizetti and his contemporaries. For many years one section—the short Wolf’s Crag scene (one of the most exciting confrontations in the story)—was customarily cut from performances and another—the scene for Edgardo that closes the opera—was also frequently omitted from productions. It is said that some sopranos, jealous of the opportunity given to the tenor to end the opera with his beautifully sung, but tragic, demise, demanded that the work conclude, rather, with the ‘Mad Scene’, thus ensuring that the prima donna received all the audience’s plaudits for her final coloratura display. Be that as it may, the interpretation of Donizetti’s masterpiece on this recording is performed complete, in the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti production by Francesco Esposito.
Another change was instigated in Lucia’s earliest days by Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani herself; for reasons which are not entirely clear, she replaced the original aria ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ and its cabaletta ‘Quando, rapito in estasi’ in the second scene with a number from Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, first performed in 1834. Whether this switch had Donizetti’s blessing is not known but the custom continued for several years. Among her successors in the rôle who also sang the ‘unofficial’ aria was Jenny Lind, ‘The Swedish Nightingale’. In Joan Bulman’s biography of Lind (James Barrie, 1956) it is related that, when around 1841 she went to Paris to study with Manuel García, ‘…he asked her to sing the aria ‘Perchè non ho’, from Lucia di Lammermoor. It was one of her most popular parts, she had sung it thirty-nine times in the preceding year…’
It need hardly be added that ‘Perchè non ho’ is from Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, not from Donizetti’s original version of Lucia. There is other written evidence, too, that Lind preferred the spurious replacement but the short tradition seems to have died out by the time Adelina Patti first sang the rôle in London in 1861; now, 150 years later, Rosmonda’s aria is barely remembered.
The rôle of Edgardo has been sung and acted superbly by the world’s finest tenors over the years, but it is invariably Lucia who steals the show with her extended ‘Mad Scene’ and subsequent ensemble—an extraordinary twenty minutes of bravura singing. In Maestro Antonino Fogliani’s interpretation, using an edition prepared by Gabriele Dotto and Roger Parker, the armonico, or glass harmonica, is the instrument of choice to accompany Lucia’s madness. Donizetti’s original score shows that he initially composed the scene with that instrument in mind; later thoughts led him to prefer the flute, which is generally heard in modern performances, but there is no doubt that the more unusual armonico lends an ‘other-worldly’ character to the scene that underlines Lucia‘s fragile state of mind.
The action takes place in the region of the Lammermoor Hills in Scotland, in the late seventeenth century.
PART 1. The Parting
Scene 1: The grounds of Lord Enrico Ashton’s castle.
 A short, ominous orchestral prelude warns of the tragedy that is about to unfold. Normanno and other servants of Lord Enrico Ashton are searching for signs of Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood who, it is rumoured, has been seen in the vicinity. Edgardo is the sworn enemy of the Ashtons, following a longstanding family feud.
 Enrico has plans to marry his sister, Lucia, to Lord Arturo, a wealthy suitor, in order to restore the family fortunes. Raimondo Bidebent, the chaplain, cannot believe that she is ready yet to love, being still in mourning for her mother; but Normanno reveals that Lucia’s affections are drawn to none other than the hated Edgardo, whom she meets every morning beside a fountain in a secluded corner of the park.
 The very thought appals Enrico but the servants confirm the story, having just seen Edgardo in the castle grounds on horseback, while Raimondo is reluctant to believe it.
 Enrico swears vengeance on his enemy, the servants assure him that Edgardo will be caught and Raimondo laments the ill-fortune that has beset the Ashton family.
Scene 2: Beside a fountain in the castle park
 Lucia, with her companion Alisa, waits for Edgardo, who is late for their tryst. Lucia remembers the story of a woman’s murder years earlier by a member of the Ravenswood family—the victim’s ghost still haunts the fountain where her body lies.
 She relates how, at the dead of night, in the pale moonlight, the ghost appeared to her, beckoned and tried to speak, before vanishing once more. Alisa, deeply alarmed, warns of the danger of Lucia’s feelings for Edgardo…
 …but Lucia can think only of the ecstasy of his love, despite Alisa’s misgivings.
 Alisa keeps watch when Edgardo arrives. He tells Lucia that he must leave for France on political business but, before departing, hopes to make peace with Enrico and ask for Lucia’s hand in marriage. When Lucia urges him to remain silent about their love, Edgardo rails against Enrico, who was his father’s murderer and thief of the Ravenswood family fortune and estates. Only Edgardo’s adoration of Lucia will restore peace in his heart.
 In a gesture of marriage, Edgardo and Lucia exchange rings, as he makes ready to leave for France.
 They share the hope that, while separated, their sighs will reach each other on the gentle breezes but they know, too, that Lucia will weep in her solitude; with a sad farewell, Edgardo hurries away.
PART 2. The Marriage Contract Act I
Scene 1: Enrico’s apartments in his castle
 Enrico and Normanno await Lucia’s arrival. Normanno has intercepted her correspondence and sent a false letter, giving the impression that Edgardo now loves another. The arranged marriage to Lord Arturo is planned to take place shortly.
 The deceived girl enters; on being told by Enrico that she will soon be wed, she admits that her feelings lie elsewhere and, when shown a forged letter, her heart breaks.
 She (understandably) cannot believe that Edgardo has been unfaithful and soon hears the welcome being given to Arturo, who is approaching the castle. Enrico explains that she must marry Arturo, the only way that their family’s wealth can be restored.
 Ever more desperate, Enrico cajoles Lucia into accepting this unhappy union.
 As Enrico leaves to greet Arturo, Raimondo enters the apartments. He has been a party to the deception of Lucia, but believes that Edgardo has indeed been unfaithful to her; he urges the hapless girl to accept her fate as Arturo’s bride.
 Lucia will not listen as Raimondo pleads the family cause for her unwanted marriage. Finally she gives in, accepts her fate and damns the ‘unfaithful’ Edgardo. Assured by Raimondo of divine support, she prepares for a life of misery as her mentor rejoices at the success of his persuasive argument.
Scene 2: The Great Hall of Enrico’s castle
 Guests at the wedding party welcome the occasion with rejoicing and Arturo expresses pleasure at his happy union with the Ashton family.
 Enrico assures Arturo that Lucia will soon join them but explains that she is still grieving at the death of her mother. As she enters mournfully to sign the
marriage contract, Arturo expresses his delight, and Enrico his relief, at the course events have taken. No sooner is her signature on the document than, to everyone’s amazement and horror, the much reviled Edgardo arrives to claim Lucia’s hand.
 In the celebrated sextet, the principal characters reveal their heartfelt emotions; Edgardo accuses Lucia of betraying him, she seeks death as her only way to peace, Enrico sees his terrible error in the deception of his sister, while Alisa, Arturo, Raimondo and the wedding guests are all equally aghast at this turn of events.
 Enrico and Arturo draw swords against Edgardo, whilst Raimondo fruitlessly urges them to set down their weapons. Edgardo sees the written proof of Lucia’s marriage, at which he confronts her with perfidy. In a great ensemble to close the act, Edgardo is ordered from the castle, while he in turn reviles his former love. Lucia prays for Edgardo’s safety, realising that the end of her life is now surely approaching, and Raimondo offers hopeless, but well intended, spiritual comfort.
Scene 1: A ruined hall in Wolf’s Crag, the castle of the Ravenswood family
 It is a stormy night. Edgardo is discovered alone in his castle when he hears a horseman approaching. Enrico enters and threatens him.
 Edgardo is determined to avenge his father but is cruelly reminded by Enrico of Lucia’s recent marriage. The two enemies agree to fight to the death and will
meet, surrounded by the tombs of the Ravenswood family burial ground, at dawn the following day.
Scene 2: The Great Hall of Enrico’s castle
 The guests are continuing to enjoy Lucia and Arturo’s wedding celebrations…
 …when Raimondo enters, horrified at what he has just seen. Having heard a sinister cry from the nuptial bedroom, he discovered Arturo lying dead, blood-drenched, with his bride standing over him holding the fatal dagger—and entirely unhinged—asking where her husband was. The guests are equally appalled when Lucia herself enters, clearly having lost all reason.
 To the accompaniment of the ‘other-worldly’ sound of the glass harmonica, Lucia imagines herself to be once more with Edgardo, sitting beside the fountain. Terrified, she sees the ghost and urges Edgardo to take refuge with her by the altar, where she hears music being played—such happiness as their wedding approaches. In her maddened mind she smells the incense burning and sees the minister arrive to perform the marriage, while the guests of her real, ill-fated wedding gravely express sorrow at her pitiable state.
 Enrico enters, demanding to know if the terrible news is true; Raimondo explains what has happened as, in her madness, Lucia continues to talk to Edgardo, beseeching him to forgive her for having married another.
 As she foresees her imminent death, Lucia promises to pray for Edgardo in heaven and will await him there. Alisa leads the demented girl away and Raimondo turns on Normanno as having been the cause of the awful tragedy that is being played out.
Scene 3: The Ravenswood family burial ground, near Wolf’s Crag
 Edgardo awaits Enrico, prepared for their duel. He no longer wishes to live, deprived of Lucia’s love but blaming her for his final misery.
 He begs her never to forget him and, as she passes by his tomb in years to come, to respect the resting place of the man who loved her.
 Villagers arrive giving Edgardo the news of Lucia’s terrible plight; a bell tolls and Raimondo hurries in from the castle telling them that the poor girl has
breathed her last.
 Edgardo yearns finally to join her in heaven and draws his dagger to strike a final blow. As he dies, his thoughts are for his beautiful, beloved Lucia; he knows that, although separated in life, they will be re-united in death, while Raimondo and the villagers seek God’s pardon for the tragic events that have blighted the Ashton and Ravenswood families.
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DONIZETTI, G.: Lucia di Lammermoor [Opera] (Bergam...