Lucia di Lammermoor is a dramma tragico, or opera, in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvatore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto after Sir Walter Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor. One of the leading bel canto operas, Lucia di Lammermoor is, according to Opera America, the thirteenth most performed opera in North America.
The opera premiered on September 26, 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. Donizetti revised the score for a French version which debuted on August 6, 1839 at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris. The French version was the first to be performed in the United States, on December 28, 1841 in New Orleans (the original version came to the U.S. several months later, also in New Orleans).
Its "mad scene" contains some of the highest vocal notes of any standard opera, two E-flats. (Mozart's often-performed Singspiel "Die Zauberflöte" contains a higher note, F, in its "Queen of the Night" aria.) However, the E-flats are not a written part of the Donizetti music, like the whole "cadenza" with flute, and have been omitted by some performers, most notably Maria Callas.
For decades Lucia was considered to be a mere showpiece for coloratura sopranos and was a little-known part of the operatic repertory. However, it was revived after World War II by technically-able sopranos, most notably, Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland.
Lucie de Lammermoor
The French version of Lucia di Lammermoor was commissioned for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris and opened on August 6, 1839. The libretto is by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. It is not simply a translation; Donizetti altered some of the scenes and characters. One of the more notable changes is the disappearance of Alisa, Lucia's only friend. This allows the French version to isolate Lucia more than the original. Furthermore, Lucia loses most of Raimondo's support; his role is dramatically diminished while Arturo gets a bigger part. Donizetti creates a new character, Gilbert, who is loosely based on the huntsman in the Italian version. Gilbert, however, is a more developed figure and serves both Edgardo and Enrico, divulging their secrets to each other for money.
The French version is not performed nearly as often as the Italian, but was co-produced by the Boston Lyric Opera and the Glimmerglass Opera in 2004.
Sir Walter Scott's novel is based on a true incident that took place in the Scottish Lowlands in 1669. The story concerns a feud between two families, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods. When the opera begins, the Ashtons are in the ascendancy and have taken possession of Ravenswood Castle, the ancestral home of their rivals. Edgardo (Sir Edgar), Master of Ravenswood and last surviving member of his family, has been forced to live in a lonely tower by the sea, known as the Wolf's Crag. The Ashtons, despite their success, are threatened by changing political and religious forces. Enrico (Lord Henry Ashton) hopes to gain the protection of the important Arturo (Lord Arthur Bucklaw) to whom he intends to marry his sister Lucia (Lucy).
Scene 1: The gardens of Ravenswood Castle
Normanno (Norman), captain of the castle guard, and other retainers are searching for an intruder. He tells Enrico that he believes that the man is Edgardo, and that he comes to the castle to meet Lucia. It is confirmed that Edgardo is indeed the intruder. Enrico reaffirms his hatred for the family and his determination to end the relationship.
Scene 2: By a fountain at the entrance to the park, beside the castle
Lucia waits for Edgardo. In her famous aria 'Regnava nel Silenzio', Lucia tells her maid Alisa (Alice) that she has seen the ghost of a girl killed on the very same spot by a jealous Ravenswood ancestor. Alisa tells her the apparition is a warning that she must give up her love for Edgardo. Edgardo enters. For political reasons, he must leave immediately for France. He hopes to make his peace with Enrico and marry Lucia. Lucia tells him this is impossible, instead they take a sworn vow of marriage and exchange rings. Edgardo leaves.
Scene 1: Lord Ashton's apartments in Ravenswood Castle
Preparations have been made for the imminent wedding of Lucia to Arturo. Enrico worries about whether Lucia will really submit to the wedding. He shows his sister a forged letter seemingly proving that Edgardo has forgotten her and taken a new lover. Enrico leaves Lucia to further persuasion this time by Raimondo (Raymond), Lucia's chaplain and tutor, that she should renounce her vow to Edgardo, for the good of the family, and marry Arturo.
Scene 2: A hall in the castle
Arturo arrives for the marriage. Lucia acts strangely, but Enrico explains that this is due to the death of her mother. Arturo signs the marriage contract, followed reluctantly by Lucia. At that point Edgardo suddenly appears in the hall. Raimondo prevents a fight, but he shows Lucia's signature on the marriage contract to Edgardo. He curses her, demanding that they return their rings to each other. He tramples his ring on the ground, before being forced out of the castle.
Scene 1: The Wolf's Crag
Enrico visits Edgardo to challenge him to a duel. He tells him that Lucia is already enjoying her bridal bed. Edgardo agrees to fight him. They will meet later by the graveyard of the Ravenswoods, near the Wolf's Crag.
Scene 2: A Hall in Ravenswood castle
Raimondo interrupts the marriage celebrations to tell the guests that Lucia has gone mad and killed her bridegroom. Lucia enters. In the aria 'Il dolce suono' she imagines being with Edgardo, soon to be happily married. Enrico enters and at first threatens Lucia but later softens when he realizes her condition. Lucia collapses. Raimondo blames Normanno for precipitating the whole tragedy.
Scene 3: The graveyard of the Ravenswood family
Edgardo is resolved to kill himself on Enrico's sword. He learns that Lucia is dying and then Raimondo comes to tell him that she has already died. Edgardo stabs himself to death with a dagger, hoping to be re-unified with Lucia in heaven.
[This synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published on Opera japonica http://www.operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.]
The "mad scene" was re-popularized when it was featured in the film The Fifth Element in a performance by the Albanian opera singer Inva Mula-Tchako, who voiced the diva Plavalaguna (however, Plavalaguna was acted by French actress Maïwenn Le Besco).
The "mad scene" was also used in the first episode of the anime Gankutsuou (in place of l'Italiana in Algeri which was the opera used in that scene in The Count of Monte Cristo).
The “Lucia Sextet” (Chi mi frena in tal momento?) was recorded in 1908 by Enrico Caruso, Marcella Sembrich, Antonio Scotti, Marcel Journet, Barbara Severina, and Francesco Daddi, (Victor single-sided 70036) and released at the astonishing price of $7.00. This melody is probably best known today from its use by the Three Stooges in their shorts “Micro-phonies” (1945) and “Square Heads of the Round Table” (1948), sung in the latter with the lyrics “Oh, Elaine, can you come out tonight…”.
Callas M., di Stefano G., Gobbi T., Serafin [cond.], 1953, EMI
Callas M., di Stefano G., Karajan [cond.], 1955, EMI
Sutherland J., Pavarotti L., Milnes S., Bonynge [cond.], 1971, Decca
Sutherland J., Cioni R., Merrill R., Pritchard [cond.], 1961, Decca