Background: Mid-nineteenth-century Scotland
A deadly feud has raged between the Ravenswood and Ashton families for many years.Edgardo of Ravenswood has been driven off his ancestral home by Lord Enrico Ashton, who has usurped it for his own use.Edgardo is in love with Lucia, Enrico’s sister, making matters worse.
Lord Ashton has overplayed his hand in a plot against the king and finds his future imperiled.His only hope is to force Lucia to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw, whose influential position might be enough to stay the imminent political and economic danger to his family.The plot of the opera revolves around this exploitation of Lucia to secure the future of the Ashton dynasty.
Act 1, Scene 1: Grounds near Ravenswood Castle
Under Normanno’s leadership, residents of the Ashton estate search the grounds for the intruder they think is secretly meeting with Lucia.Normanno tells Enrico that the fugitive may be his sworn enemy, Edgardo.Enrico is infuriated that a threat should come from the Ravenswood rank and plans to proceed with the forced marriage.Raimondo, a chaplain and Lucia’s tutor, calls for reason and reminds them that the girl is still mourning the recent death of her mother.When the men return with confirmation that the suspect is, indeed, Edgardo, Enrico swears revenge.
Act 1, Scene 2: The garden of Ravenswood Castle
After receiving an urgent note from Edgardo, Lucia eagerly awaits his arrival.She tells Alisa, her companion, about the ghost of a woman who drowned in the nearby fountain many years before.Lucia claims to have seen the ghost beckoning her toward the water.Alisa interprets this as a bad omen and advises Lucia to end her secret romance.Her admonition, however, falls on deaf ears.
Edgardo arrives and tells Lucia that he must go to France on a political mission the next morning.Before departing, he wants to visit Enrico and make peace with him.Lucia begs him to keep their love a secret.Edgardo agrees, and they exchange rings and vows of devotion.They bid each other farewell and promise to write.
Act 2, Scene 1: Enrico’s study
Enrico has arranged for Lucia to marry Lord Bucklaw this very day, without first securing her consent, and is worried about her reaction.Normanno reminds him of the action they have taken to secure Lucia’s compliance—the interception of all of Edgardo’s love letters.To better his odds, Enrico decides to forge a letter containing a confession of infidelity from Edgardo.
Lucia enters and rebukes her brother for his cold, unsympathetic treatment of her.Full of deceitful apologies, he tries to beguile her into the marriage to Arturo, but she tells him she is already pledged to someone else.At this admission, Enrico presents Lucia with the forged missive.Believing that Edgardo loves another woman, Lucia gives in to despair.As the wedding party gathers outside, Enrico reminds Lucia that her marriage to Arturo is the only recourse left to save the future of their family.Faced with additional persuasion from Raimondo, Lucia consents to the marriage.
Act 2, Scene 2: Great Hall of Ravenswood Castle
Lucia’s wedding to Lord Arturo Bucklaw is underway.Before the assembled guests, Arturo pledges his loyalty to the Ashton clan.A pale and distracted Lucia presents herself to sign the marriage contract.Just as she has finished placing her signature on the fateful document, Edgardo forces his way into the hall.Unaware of the pressure that Lucia’s brother exerted on her and after being shown the marriage contract, Edgardo harshly denounces Lucia.He threatens Enrico, and only Raimondo’s intervention prevents a fight.The guests demand Edgardo’s withdrawal, and, despite a final irrational tirade, he leaves unharmed.
Act 3, Scene 1: Great Hall of Ravenswood Castle
On their wedding night, the bride and groom have retired to their chambers, while the festivities are still in full swing.A disturbed Raimondo abruptly interrupts the proceedings.He announces that Lucia, under the strain of the forced marriage, has murdered Arturo.All fear the wrath of God for their part in the forced arrangement.Lucia appears, disheveled, bloodstained, and raving.She gives a macabre description of an imaginary wedding to her lover, Edgardo.When Enrico returns, he is enraged at Lucia’s behavior but soon realizes that she has lost her senses.After a confused and violent exchange with her brother, Lucia collapses.
Act 3, Scene 2: The tombs of the Ravenswoods
A crestfallen Edgardo is wandering among the graves of his ancestors.Ignorant of Lucia’s fate, he derides her for her faithlessness and prays for his own death.Guests exiting the castle murmur about Lucia’s madness.They describe her declining condition and tell Edgardo that she constantly calls his name from her deathbed.Edgardo starts for the castle but is stopped by Raimondo, who tells him it is too late.A bell tolls the death knell for Lucia.Thinking only of a reunion with his love, he stabs himself and dies as Raimondo says a prayer for pardon.
by Kirby Haugland
Ph.D. Student in Musicology
Long before Gaetano Donizetti and Salvatore Cammerano collaborated to create Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835, Scotland was already a rich source for composers’ romantic imaginations.William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with its magic, murder, and intrigue among the moors, was popular throughout Europe.Felix Mendelsohn’s travels to Scotland inspired his Hebrides overture and his Scottish symphony.The mythical Scottish bard Ossian prompted works by Schubert, Gottschalk, Brahms, Bizet, and Saint-Saëns.Even so, no Scottish tales compared in popularity to those of poet, historian, and novelist Sir Walter Scott.
Scott’s works inspired songs by Schubert, overtures by Berlioz, and more than 50 nineteenth-century operas.Several of these remain popular today, including Rossini’s Il donna del lago, Bellini’s I puritani, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.Lucia was not the first adaptation of Scott’s 1819 novel The Bride of Lammermoor (Cammerano likely based his work on three earlier libretti), nor was it the last.While these other adaptations have largely been forgotten, Donizetti’s Lucia is more famous today than the novel that inspired it.
As much as composers were drawn to his works, which are filled with song lyrics, Scott was not particularly musical, nor was he enamored of the operas based on his stories.After attending one performance, he wrote, “It was an opera, and of course the story was greatly mangled, and the dialogue in a great part nonsense.” Scott’s reaction is ironic, considering that his own works were themselves often “mangled” versions of historical events.
The Bride of Lammermoor draws its inspiration from Janet Dalrymple, the daughter of a seventeenth-century lawyer and Scottish lord.Dalrymple fell in love with Lord Rutherfurd.The two supposedly pledged their fidelity by breaking a gold coin between them.The subsequent events went much the way of the opera, with Rutherfurd rejected by Janet’s parents in favor of a more acceptable match.Although retellings are contradictory, Janet is said to have stabbed her husband on their marriage night in a fit of madness.Her husband survived, but would never say what had happened, and Janet died within weeks.
Scott weaves this tragic tale into a larger tapestry.Lucy and Edgar’s romance develops amidst a background of political conflict between Lucy’s parents and Edgar’s allies.Scott’s work as a historian allowed him to build a detailed setting during the chaotic years between England’s Glorious Revolution and the Acts of Union that formed the United Kingdom.At the start of the novel, Bucklaw and Edgar are acquaintances, who fall out because of the tragi-comic antics of Edgar’s faithful old servant Caleb.Lord Ashton actually supports Lucy and Edgar’s relationship, but his plans are foiled by Lady Ashton’s cold ambition.Legends, prophecies, and suggestions of witchcraft further enrich the romantic Scottish setting.
The Bride of Lammermoor has far too much going on for a direct adaptation to the stage.Cammerano stripped the story down to its essence: Lucy and Edgar’s thwarted love.Although the opera opens with a hunters’ chorus (a staple of Walter Scott operas), Donizetti makes no attempt at writing Scottish sounding music.Edgardo di Ravenswood and Enrico Ashton owe their passions more to operatic convention than to Scott’s original characters.
Rather than attempt the detail of Scott’s novel, Lucia captures the feeling of its most important scenes, magnifying their emotions with Donizetti’s memorable melodies and expert orchestration.This is particularly apparent in the sextet that follows Edgardo’s thunderous entrance upon the wedding party in Act II.After a few moments of stunned silence, the music begins to build over soft plucked strings.First Edgardo and Enrico, then Lucia and Raimondo, and finally Alisa, Arturo, and the entire crowd enter as they each sing of their personal turmoil.Before the actual conflict starts, the audience is privy to the thoughts of these people on the precipice.
In the last act, Cammerano and Donizetti triumphantly moved beyond their source material.Lucia’s double finale, the famous mad scene and Edgardo’s suicide in the churchyard, are both inventions.Scott’s Lucy is found cowering in her bridal chamber fireplace, her only line “So, you have ta’en up your bonny bridegroom?” The 1831 opera La Fidanzata di Lammermoor expanded this moment into a musical mad scene, its heroine actually confronting Edgardo before poisoning herself.Cammerano and Donizetti make the moment even more striking; Lucia has totally broken from reality, seeing and hearing phantoms.Her recitative jerks between styles, an operatic trope for an addled mind, while much of her concluding cabaletta is unsettlingly calm.Rather than his accidental demise in the novel, Edgardo’s subsequent, pathos-filled monologue among the tombs and his suicide over Lucia’s death are a fitting counterpoint to the prior drama.Donizetti represents his fading strength by having a solo cello take most of Edgardo’s melody after he stabs himself.Of course, he then finds a second wind and manages to sing with the chorus to the final cadence.
While Scott did not live to see Lucia, he would have probably found it a story “greatly mangled.” Much of the intricate detail constructed in his novel disappears on the stage.But such details were not what made the opera an instant, lasting success.Donizetti and Cammerano brought Scott’s characters to life; they created a vision of the mysterious, sublime, romantic Scotland that populated European imaginations.Joys and sorrows play out vividly in the music, exciting singers and moving audiences ever since the premiere.