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ClassicsOnline Home » DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Pagliughi, Malipiero) (1939)
A dramma tragico in three acts, to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott.
The enthusiasm of Europe for Scotland and all things Scottish, that flowered so colourfully during the early nineteenth century, was due in no small measure to the writings of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). His works were widely read, and their influence on, among other composers, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Rossini and Berlioz, was evident even before Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor. Indeed, there had been at least five earlier operas based, however loosely, on Scotts 1819 novel The Bride of Lammermoor, so it is clear that Donizetti and Cammarano were following, rather than setting, a fashionable musical trend.
That said, there is nothing remotely Scottish about the music of Lucia di Lammermoor in itself, but the opera has always enjoyed popularity, even during those years when Donizettis works were thought of little account. Notwithstanding the number of his operas that have more recently been re-discovered and performed world-wide, Lucia di Lammermoor still stands as one of the treasures of his considerable output. Virtually every great coloratura soprano of the past 160 years has sung the title rôle - Fanny Persiani, its creator, Lind, Patti, Albani, Melba and Tetrazzini were among those familiar to earlier generations; nearer our own time dal Monte, Callas, Scotto, Sutherland, Sills and Caballè have each found admirers of their widely differing interpretations. We are fortunate that in 1939 Cetra selected Pagliughi, one of Italys most brilliant sopranos, to take part in their recording of the opera.
It is easy to underrate the importance of the role of Edgardo. The part is not a long one, but requires a combination of lyrical tenderness with heroic steel; remembering his great solo scene at the close of the opera, the singer must keep some power in reserve, though surely no tenor would be so ungracious as to try and overshadow Lucias spectacular mad scene (after which some audiences have been known to leave the theatre, believing the opera to be over). Nineteenth century singers of this rôle include Duprez, the first Edgardo, Rubini and Mario; from the twentieth century, among many others, Caruso, McCormack, Gigli, Martinelli and Lauri-Volpi sang it before the second world war, and di Stefano, Tagliavini, Bergonzi and Pavarotti were much admired after it. Malipieros name is less well-known than these, but he brings to Edgardo a firmly focused, gallant tone and his voice, like Pagliughis, springs off these 78rpm recordings with exciting clarity.
Their principal colleagues are hardly less admirable. Lucias tyrannical brother Enrico is sung by the barely-remembered Giuseppe Manacchini; he makes a virtue of his light vibrato, and excellent diction brings bite to solos in the first scene. His high-baritone relishes the phrase Esser potrebbe Edgardo? when he realises Lucias lover is none other than the dreaded Edgardo; he is gently conciliatory to his sister in the opening scene of the second act but threatens darkly as he sacrifices her happiness to save his own political neck. Here too (Tu che vedi il pianto mio) one first senses that Lucys sanity is draining away, as Pagliughi colours those tearful phrases.
Raimondo Bidebent is the other major personality in the opera, here sung by Luciano Neroni who was little over thirty when the recording was made. This young bass brings a grave authority to his attempts at peacemaking after the great sextet and in his announcement of murder to the horrified wedding guests in the third act. Neronis was a magnificent voice but, like so many of his generation, world war two came between it and a big international career, though he made a number of fine records.
But yes, of course, it is with the Lucia and Edgardo that performances of the opera stand or fall. They appear together in only two scenes, and it is during the duet beside the fountain that they must establish their relationship for the audience. Before Edgardos arrival Pagliughi consistently produces fresh, bright tone without any hint of shrillness; she sounds girlish, as she should, without appearing immature. The aria Regnava nel silenzio may not be full of foreboding but there is, rather, an innocence here and a beautifully controlled closing phrase, si sangue rosseggiù. Her decorations to the cabaletta, Quando, rapito in estasi, are impeccably executed, no sense of stretching for effect, but an entirely natural and effective result. Malipieros very restraint at the opening of the duet, Sulla tomba, is similarly successful, for more is achieved by simplicity than by exaggeration. After the lovers part, they meet just once again in less secluded circumstances in the second act. Then follows Lucias mad scene, surely the most famous in all opera, composed in an era that found such operatic insanity particularly attractive; it is a severe test for any soprano and again Pagliughi scores highly. No great histrionics, but touchingly sung with all the pyrotechnics bright and flashing. In mourning Lucias death, Malipiero sums up the tragedy of the opera. His plaintive cry, Lucia più non è, precedes an exquisite opening to Tu che a Dio, sung softly and with rare elegance; within a few bars he finds all the virile passion of an angry lover and the opera draws to its tragic close as he dies by his own hand.
This recording of Lucia di Lammermoor suffers from the standard theatrical cuts of its day. These include the Wolfs Crag scene, a duet for Enrico and Edgardo, which is omitted entirely; the mad scene has two excisions which beneficially allow the soprano to sing (and close) it without interruption from other characters; and elsewhere second verses of arias and cabalettas are sometimes cut. Though this is regrettable it is not devastating, for what we have is still a masterly performance of one of Donizettis greatest operas; and not, of course, forgetting Sir Walter Scott.
Lucia di Lammermoor was first performed on 26th September 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples.
Lina Pagliughi was born in New York in 1907 and died at Rubicone in Italy in 1980. She was one of the great lyric coloraturas of her day. After studying in San Francisco and Milan, her career blossomed in 1927 with performances of Gilda (Rigoletto) in Milan. She sang throughout Italy and in the Netherlands, the Americas, Australia and at Covent Garden (Gilda again, in 1938). Excelling in the operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, Pagliughi also sang those rôles by Mozart, Richard Strauss, Leoncavallo - even Wagner - to which her elegant technique and sweet voice were ideally suited. In retirement she taught in Milan.
Born in Padua in 1906, Giovanni Malipiero made his début in Rigoletto at the age of 25 and appeared in South America and throughout Europe, first singing in Rome (LItaliana in Algeri) in 1935, and at both La Scala (La Cenerentola) and Verona Arena from 1937. Malipiero participated in the re-opening concert at La Scala under Toscanini in 1946 (Naxos 8.110821-2) and appeared there in Lucia di Lammermoor with Pagliughi. His pure, forthright tenor suited the (principally Italian) rôles that he sang, but he also enjoyed success in the French repertory, including operas by Massenet and Gounod. Malipiero retired in 1962 and died in Padua in 1970.
Part I Parting
 The scene is the garden of the Castle of Ravenswood. Norman and his huntsmen explore the grounds and the castle ruins. They disperse.
 Norman turns respectfully to Lord Henry Ashton, who is troubled. His family fortunes are fading and matters can only be saved by the marriage of his sister Lucy, in spite of his mortal enemy Edgar of Ravenswood. Lucys confidant, the Lammermoor chaplain Raymond Bidebent, reminds him that Lucy is mourning the recent death of her mother and is not ready for immediate marriage or love. Norman suggests that she is only too ready. As she had walked alone to her mothers grave, she had been attacked by a bull, which was felled by a sudden shot from a man whom she now meets often at dawn, Lord Henrys enemy Edgar.
 The news disturbs Lord Henry, making him shudder in horror. He declares he would rather see his sister struck down by lightning than associate with this man.
 The huntsmen return to report what they have found in the old ruins, a man, who quickly rode off, Edgar. Lord Henry is furious, unable to contain his rage, although Raymond tries to calm him.
 He swears to destroy his enemy, and is assured by his followers that Edgar cannot escape, while the chaplain comments on the cloud of terror that now has fallen on the house.
 The scene is set at the entrance to the grounds of the Castle of Lammermoor. In the background is a door and in the foreground a fountain. Lucy comes from the castle, followed by Alice, both in agitation. Lucy looks round, as if searching for someone, but, seeing the fountain, turns her regard elsewhere, as she waits for Edgar. She recalls how in the past a Ravenswood, in jealous rage, had murdered his Lammermoor beloved, leaving her body in the fountain, which her ghost now haunts.
 She tells how, in the deep silence of the night, under the dismal light of the moon, she had heard a groan and seen the ghost, which seemed to call her, then suddenly disappeared, as the clear water of the fountain turned blood-red. Alice hears something ominous in this and urges her to desist from her love. Lucy tells her that Edgar is the light of her life and her comfort. He has sworn to be true to her, but in all this Alice foresees trouble to come.
 Alice sees Edgar drawing near and withdraws, keeping watch for any intruder. Edgar tells Lucy that he must leave the country, for the sake of Scotland, and promises to extend the hand of friendship to her brother, in spite of their enmity.
 On his fathers tomb Edgar had sworn eternal enmity to her family, but when he saw her he began to entertain different feelings, his anger quelled. Lucy, however, begs him not to reveal their secret love.
 Edgar swears eternal faith to Lucy, placing a ring on her finger and she on his, a sign of their betrothal. They must part but his heart remains with her, as he remembers her.
 Lucy will send her sighs of love to him; he will hear her laments in the murmuring of the sea, in her sadness. Edgar echoes her feelings and goes, as she retires into the castle.
Part II The Marriage Contract
Act II (= Part II, Act I)
 The scene is set in the apartments of Lord Henry in the Castle of Lammermoor. Norman is with Lord Henry, the latter seated at a table. He has arranged Lucys marriage to Lord Arthur Bucklaw and Norman assures him that Edgars long absence and the interception of his letters and the new forgery declaring his love for another should ensure her compliance. Lord Henry takes the forged letter and sends Norman to greet Lord Arthur, as he approaches.
 Lucy comes in, looking fixedly at Lord Henry, who hoped to have seen her happy on her wedding day.
 She tells him that he knows the reason for her sorrow at his inhuman harshness, but he tells her that he is her brother and that his anger has passed, as her insane love should. She interrupts him, telling him of her pledge of fidelity to another, and he answers by giving her the forged letter, which she takes and reads, trembling as she does so.
 She has lived with Edgars love, in spite of her sorrow, and now she has received a mortal blow. Lord Henry tells her that she has been the victim of a vile seducer, of whom she is well rid.
 The distant sound of Lord Arthurs arrival is heard, and Lord Henry tells Lucy of her future husbands approach. Lucy sees the tomb rather than the marriage-bed for herself, but he explains the change in their political fortunes, which can only be remedied by her marriage; she must save him.
 He continues, telling her that if she betrays him, he will lose both his honour and his life and his shade will return to haunt her. Lucy laments her own unhappiness and would willingly die. Lord Henry hurries out.
 The great hall of Lammermoor Castle has been prepared for the reception of Lord Arthur, where the wedding guests are assembled to greet him. He assures Lord Henry of his support.
 Lord Arthur asks where Lucy is and Lord Henry explains that she will soon join them, but that she is still mourning the death of her mother. Lord Arthur mentions rumours of her love for Edgar, which Lord Henry assures him is in the past.
 As Lord Henry repeats his claim that she is mourning the death of her mother, Lucy enters, in utter despondency and supported by Alice and the chaplain. Lord Henry presents her future husband to her and she draws back, reproached by her brother for seeming to fail him. Lord Arthur approaches the table, where he signs the wedding contract and Lucy, with the help of Alice and the chaplain, goes to the table and, urged on by her brother, also signs. A noise is heard outside, the approach of Edgar, at which Lucy falls fainting to the ground.
 Edgar bursts in, raging against Lord Henry and declaring his love for Lucy, while Lord Henry has a moment of remorse. Lucy comes to herself, still living, though she wished for death.
 With swords drawn, Lord Arthur and Lord Henry threaten Edgar, who draws his sword in his turn. The fracas is interrupted by the chaplain, reminding them that he who takes the life of another by the sword shall perish by the sword.
 Lord Henry demands to know the reason for Edgars presence. Edgar tells him of the pledges exchanged between him and Lucy, but Lord Henry tells him she is now anothers and shows him the marriage contract. Turning to Lucy, Edgar demands an explanation and she admits that she has signed the contract. At this he angrily returns her ring and demands his own, which she returns to him, hardly knowing what she does. He takes it, accusing her of having betrayed heaven and love. He curses the moment that he met her.
 Lord Arthur, Lord Henry and his supporters tell Edgar to be gone. Edgar throws down his sword and urges his enemies to kill him, while Lucy begs him to hear her and the others tell him to go.
Act III (=Part II Act II)
 The sound of music for dancing is heard from a room adjacent to the great hall at Lammermoor Castle and there is general rejoicing, interrupted by the chaplain.
 He brings terrible news. A terrible cry had come from the room where Lucy was with her husband. He had run there and found the bloodstained body of Lord Arthur, with Lucy holding the dagger and demanding to know where her husband was, in madness.
 The wedding guests are horrified. Lucy enters, out of her wits, in a white night-gown stained with blood, her hair dishevelled.
 She seems to hear the voice of Edgar and tells him she has escaped from his enemies and will meet him by the fountain. She calls his name and seems to hear the wedding hymn: now at last she is his. Lord Henry rushes in, demanding to know whether what he has been told is true. He hurls himself on her, restrained by the chaplain. In her delirium Lucy goes on to blame the cruelty of her brother.
 Still addressing Edgar, she tells him that in heaven they will be happy together, before falling to the ground, fainting.
 It is night outside the Castle of Ravenswood, where the Ravenswood tombs stand. Edgar awaits death, as the last of his line, ready to welcome the sword of his enemy, Lord Henry. For him life is now a desert without Lucy, happy, it seems, with her new husband.
 There will be none to mourn him, but he calls on Lucy, for whom he dies, to respect his grave.
 The people of Lammermoor approach, lamenting the events of the day. Edgar asks them what has happened and is told that Lucy is dying and calling for him. He makes to go to her, but is told by the chaplain that she is already dead.
 Determined to be with her in heaven, Edgar stabs himself, ready now to join Lucy.
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DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor (Pagliughi, Malipie...