Lucia di Lammermoor – The Musical Story

Lucia di Lammermoor – The Musical Story

Posted by Utah Opera in Lucia di Lammermoor, Online Learning, Productions 10 Mar 2017

Lucia di Lammermoor was Gaetano Donizetti’s 51st opera and the seventh operatic version of Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel “The Bride of Lammermoor.” It was the first time he collaborated with the librettist Salvatore Cammarano, but it would not be his last: Cammarano gave Donizetti six other librettos, which included those for Roberto Devereux and Poliuto; Cammarano later went on to write three libretti for Verdi. Donizetti’s Lucia had its first performance on September 26, 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Today we think of it as an opera in three acts:  after all, there are two intermissions; but the score divides it, more interestingly, into Two Parts. Parte Prima is given the subtitle “La Partenza” (The Parting) and we’re told it is “Atto Unico” (The Only Act); it consists of two scenes. Parte Seconda has the subtitle “Il Contratto Nuziale” (The Wedding Contract), and is divided into two acts. We’ll note these divisions as we go through the story.

The orchestration is fairly typical for a mid-nineteenth-century Italian Opera House, with a couple of exceptions. Piccolo; 2 Flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets; 2 bassoons; 4 horns; 2 trumpets; 3 trombones; cimbasso (a sort of cross between a bass trombone and a tuba); timpani; triangle; cymbals; bass drum;  bell; harp; strings; off-stage “banda.” The solo piccolo is unusual: the instrument was used, but it was most often doubled by the player of the Second Flute. Perhaps because the first flute had a very elaborate solo role in Lucia’s “Mad Scene”- even before the notorious “cadenza with flute” was added (check out “Lucia Extras”) Donizetti wanted to give the player some non-playing time!

Our Act I, Scene 1

The “Atto Unico” of the “Parte Prima” begins very quietly – in fact it’s easy to miss the first two bars: two very soft taps on the timpani and bass drum; silence; a roll on the fourth beat: repeat. Ominous.   The horn choir begins a chorale-like theme in Bb minor (an unusual key!). More timpani taps.  Now a solo clarinet joins the horns, followed by a solo oboe. Suddenly the entire orchestra interrupts with three huge chords, but the rhythm of the opening bar continues inexorably until it disappears into silence. A faster tempo and a new rhythm from the strings and winds which is stopped by sustained chords. Silence again. The full orchestra announces the melody of Normanno, Captain of the Ravenswood Guard and his men who, in the grounds of the Ravenswood Castle, are in search of something that threatens them: as so often in operas of this period much reading between, and under – if not over—the lines is required if sense is to be made of them. The chorus, by the way, is in Bb major – I don’t want to turn this into a music-theory lesson, but Donizetti is thinking large-scale!

Enrico, in the same key, arrives with Raimondo, a Presbyterian minister and, more importantly, Lucia’s spiritual advisor. If you’ve read Scott’s novel, you’ll know that Henry (Enrico) is Lucy’s younger brother: I guess the elder brother’s name, Sholto, was too difficult for Italians to pronounce? The opening string rhythm is important (see, or better, hear the opening of “Parte Secondo”). So is the key of Db major (a shuddering in the lower strings, over which is that opening theme) in which Enrico tells us that his family is in dire financial straits (again:  reading between the lines) and that his mortal enemy, Edgardo, mocks him; his only hope is marrying his sister Lucia off to a wealthy ally, but she refuses. Raimondo reminds him that, still mourning the death of her mother, she cannot think of marriage. Again, if you’ve read Scott’s novel, you’ll know that both Mother and Father Ashton are very much alive, though she doesn’t appear until half-way through. She is also quite ruthless in sacrificing her daughter when it comes to saving the financial well-being of her family. And Scott points out that she had no regrets after her daughter went mad, killed her husband and then died! The first libretto to mention Lady Ashton’s death is the one Pietro Beltrame wrote for Alberto Mazzucato’s La Fidanzatta di Lammermoor in 1835. Normanno, with those rhythmic figures combined, tells us that while Lucia was walking near her mother’s grave, a bull charged her and she was saved from death by a bullet from… more between-the-lines-reading… Edgardo; of course she falls in love with him, and they now meet every morning. Early in Scott’s novel Lucy and her father are out riding when a free-range bull charges them; her father is in mortal danger, when a single shot kills the bull. Lucy faints before the bull is killed, and, to revive her, the un-named shooter carries her to a nearby fountain. She, of course, falls in love with her savior.  Sir William Ashton, in the novel, has been awarded, in a political take-over, the estates of the Ravenswood family, and it is not until later that he learns that his savior is Edgar, the last surviving son of his political rival. Daddy Ashton in the novel spends much time negotiating with Edgar Ravenswood some middle ground in which they might be allies. But that subtlety disappears in the opera, since there is no Daddy Ashton!

Normanno’s revelation results in the first part of Enrico’s aria in which he sings of the agony he feels knowing that his sister has betrayed him with his mortal enemy. Bb major is only a minor third above Enrico’s cantabile, and it is in that key that the men return to tell of their strange encounter with a man who turned out to be Edgardo. Enrico is suitably enraged and his cabaletta of revenge ends in G major. But it could be argued that the G major tonality of both sections of his aria, contradicting everything associated with Bb, either major or minor, illustrates his rage at the situation: such suppressed anger that his voice drops a minor third?  Nice psychology, Gaetano!

Our Act I, Scene 2

The scene changes to another part of the Castle grounds. A fountain is downstage. We know that back then changes of scene (as opposed to endings of acts) were carried out without closing the stage-curtain. Donizetti obviously felt that music was required, and obviously having a good harpist in the orchestra, wrote an elaborate solo – almost a mini-concerto –for him (and it would have been “him” back then). The only other such important operatic harp solo from those years that I know of occurs in Rossini’s Otello, first performed some nineteen years earlier, also in Naples, but at the Teatro del Fondo.

Lucia enters, in “greatest excitement,” followed by Alisa, her companion.  (Scott’s novel, by the way, does have a character named Alice: an old, blind tenant on the Ravenswood estate, whom Lucy befriends and visits often. She warns the girl that tragedy must result from a marriage between the two families, and even her ghost warns Edgar of the consequences of this relationship – certainly not the “companion/confidant” that the operatic Alisa is!) Lucia is upset that “he” is not here. Alisa is worried first about what Lucia’s brother might do if he knew about this meeting with Edgardo, but also about Lucia’s seeming fear of the fountain? Legend has it, says Lucia, that a girl was stabbed to death here by a Ravenswood, and her body was dumped into this fountain, but she has seen her! In true operatic fashion, Alisa says “What are you saying?” and, in true operatic fashion, Lucia says “Listen,” and launches into her first aria.

A few paragraphs above I mentioned that Donizetti was “thinking large-scale,” and here’s the first example of it! The opera began with an orchestral prelude which began in Bb minor, changed to the major for the opening chorus and the scene ended in G major; in Naples Lucia’s aria began in Eb minor, a key very closely related, in Theory-terms, to the opening scene’s Bb minor, and there will be more connections! (We’re not sure when Lucia’s aria was transposed down a half-step, but it can be assumed that it had become standard by the end of the nineteenth century.)

To the accompaniment of a clarinet, she tells of the dark silent night when the phantom appeared to her; in the relative major, and still with the clarinet, Lucia tells us that the ghost seemed to speak to her and seemed to beckon to her, but suddenly disappeared. In the bright tonic major key, accompanied now by the harp, she tells us that the well-water turned red with her blood.

No surprise that Alisa is concerned, and begs Lucia to give up her love. But, sings Lucia, he is the light of my life: I am happy only when I am with him. Again, the harp accompanies her words, and her joy is reflected in the vocal ornaments she adds to the second half of her aria. Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, the first Lucia, didn’t like this aria much and soon substituted her opening aria from Rosamonda d’Inghilterra an earlier Donizetti opera. That text makes no mention of the Ravenswood legend:   its only, very tenuous, connection to Lucia’s situation is that Rosamonda wishes she had wings so that she and the man she loves might fly away together.

An energetic figure from the strings introduces Edgardo; Alisa tells Lucia that she will keep careful watch nearby. He apologizes for asking to meet at this unusual time, but he has come to tell her that he is about to leave immediately for France on political business and, thankfully, librettist Cammarano is operatically obscure as to what that might actually mean. Scott does a bit more explaining, but does assume his readers will have a vague knowledge of past political conflicts between England and Scotland. Edgardo promises Lucia that he will speak to Enrico before he sets sail, tell him of their love and ask for her hand in marriage. Lucia begs him to keep their love secret. But Edgardo, to a new lower-string figure, reminds her that Enrico is responsible for the loss of his family’s inheritance, and for the death of his father. (Not exactly so, according to Scott.)  As his anger mounts, despite Lucia’s pleas, so does the orchestra’s, until everything stops on a surprising chord which resolves into G minor. Remember “there will be more connections?” Here’s one. Enrico’s aria ended the first scene in G major; now, with Edgardo’s solo, we’re in the minor of that tonality! He tells Lucia that he swore, on his father’s grave, eternal vengeance against the whole Ashton family; but once he had seen her, his heart softened, though the vow still holds. Lucia, in one of Donizetti’s most gracefully beautiful melodies, begs him to keep only love in his heart.

The tempo quickens. Edgardo slips a ring on Lucia’s finger and declares himself, in the eyes of God, her husband; giving him her ring, Lucia swears she is his wife. A note in the libretto that accompanies the Sills CD points out that at this time in Scotland lovers’ oaths were considered the equivalent of a church marriage, and whoever broke a “ceremoniously sworn vow” would be subject to divine retribution. In Scott, Edgar splits a gold piece in half for each to keep as a token of their vow. Exchanging rings, as they do here, would have been more readily understood by the Naples audience as, at the very least, a plighting of troths, if not a real marriage. Together they sing that the breeze will carry their sighs to each other, and the sea will echo their sorrows; remember this melody, for it will return in the “Mad Scene.”   Edgardo leaves, reminding his wife that they are united by heaven, and the act ends in Bb major, the tonality in which it began.

Our Act II, Scene 1

“Parte Seconda,” subtitled “The Wedding Contract,” begins in Lord Asthon’s room. That’s not a typo – both the Ricordi piano-vocal score and the orchestral score, as well as the French score spell the name thusly. Time has passed. The opening figure from the full orchestra is rhythmically the same as the one that introduced Enrico in the opening scene – is this a very early example of a Wagnerian leitmotif?

Normanno tells Enrico that Lucia is on her way to him. He is anxious about this meeting:  guests are beginning to arrive for the signing of the wedding contract, and Arturo (Enrico’s choice of a rich husband for his sister) will soon be here; what is he to do if Lucia refuses to go along with his plan? Normanno reassures him: Edgardo has been gone for a long time; his letters to Lucia have been intercepted; and the “fake news” that Edgardo has fallen in love with someone else will cure Lucia’s love. Enrico asks for the “forged letter” and orders Normanno to ride to “the royal city of Scotland” (Edinburgh?) and escort Arturo to the castle.

To the plaintive sound of an oboe in B minor, Lucia enters and stands near the door. Enrico, inviting her to come closer to him, tries to turn the minor key to major, but the oboe insists on the minor. The stage direction here is interesting: “Lucia mechanically approaches and stares at Enrico with fixed eyes.” I had hoped, he sings, to see you happier on your wedding day. The mournful reply of a clarinet tells us of Lucia’s despair. You are silent, says her brother.

In a surge of energy Lucia vents her anger. This is another of Lucia’s pieces which, over the years, was transposed down – this one a whole step, from A major to G major. A rising dotted figure from first violins, bassoon, clarinet and flute, is punctuated by ta-dum chords from the rest of the orchestra:  the awful deathly pallor you see in my face, and she stops. First violins, with a new, calmer, melody, encourage her to continue, which she does, keeping her dotted rhythm at first but it soon calms down to a more pathetic syncopation. This pallor must be a silent reproach for your treatment of me, knowing my pain; and only God can forgive your inhumane treatment of me.

Enrico answers her in the dominant key. But notice that in his orchestral introduction what was initially a rising figure, drops a seventh, which softens it, as if he realizes he must placate her. He admits he was enraged by her love for the unmentioned Edgardo, but, as he has quenched his anger, she must quench her love, because he has arranged a noble marriage for her. Impossible, she declares: she has vowed to marry someone else – and note that lengthening the rhythmic setting of those words makes them more defiant.

And now Enrico plays his trump card. He hands her the forged letter Normanno had earlier given him.   A solo horn introduces Lucia’s lament: since Edgardo has been unfaithful she must despair and die. Her brother chastises her, telling her that her love for him was unworthy and she is now reaping the rewards of that love – thanks a lot, brother!

Music is heard off-stage, and Lucia asks what it is. It’s the “banda.” The big theatres, like Milan’s La Scala, or the San Carlo in Naples, probably had a regular group of assorted wind and brass players to play those moments, which were frequent in opera: Verdi asked for off-stage players, for instance, in La Traviata and Rigoletto. Smaller theatres relied on the local municipal band, so who knew what instruments would show up on a given night; as a result “Banda” looks like a piano part in the orchestral score: treble and bass clefs, and usually two notes per hand!

It is, says Enrico, joyful music to welcome your husband, Arthur. In a staggered, incomplete sentence he tells his sister the historical reason behind his selection of Arturo as her husband – it’s all political, and she is the pawn who must be sacrificed to restore the Ashton family fortune. Lucia rightly protests that she is promised to Edgardo, but he will hear none of it: if you betray me and rob my honor, I will always haunt your dreams. Lucia begs God to let her die.

He leaves, and in comes Raimondo as if it had been arranged, and since we are now in the minor key of the original tonality, perhaps it was. Cammarano does not mention that Raimondo is a Presbyterian Minister (perhaps to avoid any religious censorship problems?); he is just Lucia’s “teacher and confidant.” He tells her that Edgardo’s silence suggests he has forgotten her; he even had a letter delivered to Edgardo by a trusted friend, but received no reply: proof to him that she has been abandoned and should therefore submit to her fate. “What of my vow?” she asks. Wedding vows not sanctioned by the church, he replies, can never be recognized either on earth or in heaven. To save her brother from financial ruin, and in memory of her dead mother, she should allow her heart to change. Reluctantly she agrees, and Raimondo assures her that her sacrifice will be rewarded in heaven.

Our Act II, Scene 2

We move to a hall, prepared for Arturo’s reception. The assembled guests celebrate the dawn of a new day of hope for the Ashton family. Without changing the key signature (G major), Arturo’s very formal reply, is in the dominant (D major): he promises to restore the family’s fortunes and will be Enrico’s friend, brother and protector. The guests (back in G major) are very pleased with this, and sing a shortened version of their opening chorus. But where, he asks, is Lucia? She will soon be here.

First violins introduce a fragmented theme with various solo wind instruments joining each fragment.   The key signature is D major though the conversation between Arturo and Enrico is very much in A major. Enrico warns Arturo that his bride-to-be may seem downcast, but she is still grieving her mother’s death. Arturo is aware of that situation, but wonders about another, more pertinent, one: Edgardo, but before Enrico can explain, the guests announce the arrival of Lucia. Perhaps here is why Donizetti used the D major key signature: in music theory it’s easier to move to G major from there, than from A major (which has a G#), and he needs that G major chord from the full orchestra to establish the key that will bring in Lucia: a mournful C minor. According to the libretto she is “supported by Raimondo and Alisa; she is completely despondent.” Listen to the orchestra here: it tells us so much! Each measure begins with what seems to be an um-chuck accompaniment, but the sixteenth-notes from the second violins and violas on the second half of each bar seem to indicate some inner shuddering from Lucia, while the descending, lamenting figure from the cellos (echoed by the oboe and first violins) describes her obvious despondency. (And if we’re going to pursue the “early leitmotif” idea, we could say that this figure is a development of the rhythmic theme we heard when Enrico entered in the first scene, and was heard again at the start of “Parte Seconda” – also Enrico.) Enrico curtly introduces her to Arturo, but has a quick aside to his sister: be careful, or I am lost. Arturo courteously begins to speak to her, but is interrupted by Enrico’s insistence that they sign the marriage contract at once: a joyful act for Arturo; a sacrificial one for Lucia; while Raimondo prays that she will have the strength to sign. Enrico, almost brutally, brings his sister to the table and insists she sign. Interestingly, the earlier descending lamenting figure smooths itself out while the sixteenth-notes settle into a regular accompaniment pattern.

Unaccompanied by the orchestra, Lucia cries out that she has just signed her own death warrant. As she collapses into Raimondo’s arms the full orchestra tells us that there is an uproar off-stage. Edgardo, “wrapped in a great cloak,” enters; Lucia faints. And thus begins the Larghetto beloved by the early critics. We know it as the “Sextette,” though it’s really just a “Quartet” until the Guests, and Alisa and Arturo join in. This kind of stand-and-sing reaction to a dramatic situation, where the action freezes and everyone expresses his and her feeling, was an essential moment in nineteenth-century Italian opera (whether tragic or comic) which usually happened in the lead-up to the end of the central act. Donizetti marks it “Larghetto.” The sextet begins as a duet between Enrico and Edgardo, who wonder what it is that calms their anger, but it is, of course Lucia, in all her misery: Enrico feels remorse for his sister, acknowledging he has betrayed her, while Edgardo’s remorse is from his realization that she had been placed in an impossible situation, and swears he loves her still. Lucia revives, as she must, since she is the prima donna: she had hoped for death, but that betrayed her, as did heaven and earth; Raimondo, ignoring/forgetting (?) his own part in the situation, sings platitudes about Lucia’s emotional state. Thus far it’s been just a quartet, but Enrico, realizing the enormity of what he has done to his sister, launches a melody which will include Alisa and Arturo (thus making it a “Sextette,” though those two merely repeat what has already been said) and the chorus. It’s a wonderful moment, and the early critics were right to single it out as one of the best moments of the score.

What happens next is surprising. The “Larghetto” ends in Db major, but the next section shatters any kind of key relationship by beginning in A major, a tonality not at all related to the previous key. Enrico and Arturo demand that Edgardo leave at once, or he will die; Edgardo draws his sword and says others will die with him. It is Raimondo, descending to the depths of his bass voice, who appeals for peace:  Misquoting the bible he tells them that he who kills with the sword will be killed by it. He pleads for peace. The fragmented theme returns as Enrico asks why Edgardo is here; to claim his rights, he replies:  Lucia swore her faith to me. Raimondo tells him she belongs to another and shows him the marriage contract. When Edgardo asks Lucia if it is her signature on the document, she can barely admit that it is. Furious, he gives her back her ring and demands his own which he throws on the ground and tramples it. “You have betrayed heaven and earth. I curse the day I fell in love with you. Damnable family!”

The music speeds up to Vivace (very fast). Enrico, Arturo and the guests order Edgardo to leave at once or their rage will fall on him; Raimondo tells him to leave for Lucia’s sake; Lucia prays for God to save him; Edgardo throws down his sword and begs Enrico to kill him so that Lucia can go to the altar over his bloody corpse. A wonderful, musically exciting end to the first act of Parte Seconda.

Our Act III, Scene 1: Lucia’s Mad Scene

Another party scene opens Atto Due. We are, according to the score, in the same hall as in the previous scene. “From nearby rooms can be heard merry dance music. The background is filled with guests and residents of Lammermoor Castle. They are joined by Knights, who mingle with the crowd.” The full orchestra, including triangle and bass drum provide the dance music to celebrate the marriage between Lucia and Arturo. The guests, almost gloatingly, rejoice in their new-found fortune and in their enemies’ future downfall. The E major festivities are interrupted by the appearance of a shocked Raimondo, singing a D natural, which cancels that opening tonality. “Stop your rejoicing!” he commands. The harmonies of the next seven bars are very unsure of themselves, mostly because Raimondo is unsure of what to say. The chorus notes how pale he is: “Stop!” ”What has happened?” “Something awful!” “You frighten us!” Finally we land on F# – the dominant of Raimondo’s solo.

In his “Gran Scene con Cori” Raimondo tells the guests that he heard a scream from the rooms where were Lucia and her husband. (We might wonder why he was hanging around the bridal chamber!) He rushed there to discover the bloody body of Arturo, with Lucia holding his sword. Strings in B major have a sixteenth-note accompaniment, though the violas add a kind of shudder on the second half of the second beat – disturbing! Raimondo’s disturbance shifts him into G major (not at all harmonically connected to B major). Lucia smiled horribly at him and said “Where is my husband?” Back to B major as he tells them that he knew then that the girl had gone mad. This takes us to E major for one of those great, unison choral tunes, where the chorus can express their horror at what has happened, and pray the heaven will not vent its fury on them.

“Lucia appears in scanty and white clothes; her hair is disheveled, and her face shows the appearance of being near death. She is mad.” Over the years, this scene was lowered a whole step – from F major to Eb major. It was unique for its time in its depiction of madness, and early critics may have felt uncomfortable watching it. Mad operatic heroines traditionally behaved quite decorously: they certainly didn’t commit capital crimes. Elvira, for instance, in Bellini’s I Puritani goes mad because she felt deserted by her lover, but regains her sanity once said lover returned. Lucia is a murderer! Cammarano, astonishingly for 1835, gave Donizetti a psychologically accurate picture of an insane person; he seized on it and wrote an extraordinary aria. He initially considered using the Glass Harmonica to accompany Lucia’s ravings; we don’t know for sure why he switched to the flute (See “Lucia Extras”)

The chorus notes that she seems to have risen from the grave. Lucia is oblivious to them. She imagines she hears Edgardo’s voice (the flute?) and has followed it. She tells him she has escaped from his enemies and can now finally be his. Her body shudders and her feet seem to give way, but she has reached the fountain and they can sit there together. Flute and clarinet play the first phrase of their earlier duet, but suddenly (tremolo strings, with brass and wind punctuations) the phantom from her first aria rises and tries to separate them. Just as quickly she finds refuge by an altar, which is strewn with roses (arpeggios from the solo flute); she hears heavenly music. To a new theme in the violins she understands it is their wedding hymn announcing that the ceremony is about to begin. What inexpressible joy she feels! (Though the flute does express it.)

The seven pages of vocal score thus far have been recitative. Now, three “Maestoso” orchestral chords lead us into the aria proper.

Lucia imagines they are in a church:  incense is burning; candles are lit; and the priest is ready. In a phrase of heart-breaking simplicity, and accompanied only by pizzicato strings, she tells Edgardo, “At last I am yours and you are mine; God gave you to me.” I never thought that their earlier duet was a true “love duet”: Edgardo seems too concerned with his French journey, and his marriage seems perfunctory. But this aria, in the sanity of Lucia’s insanity, is their real love duet. Raimondo, Normanno and the guests pray God to have pity on her in her terrible condition. As she loses herself in her happiness her vocal line becomes more elaborate with the flute joining her in duet, until she arrives at the cadenza-moment. And y’all can read about that in the “Lucia Extras” section.

Musically, everything changes with the arrival of Enrico: the tempo quickens, and the orchestra becomes more martial. He has just returned from Edgardo’s Tower, known as Wolf’s Crag, where the men have agreed to a duel at dawn. Donizetti composed the duet for the two rivals (it comes before the scene we’re now in) but, more often than not, it is omitted, as it is here; and honestly, dear Opera Lover, you’re not missing much, for their music is the least distinguished part of the score. A servant has obviously told him something of what has happened; he asks if it is true; Raimondo replies, “Only too true!” Enraged, he rushes to Lucia, threatening terrible punishment, but is stopped by a shout from the chorus. Lucia wonders who has spoken to her. Now Enrico sees his sister’s state; she has lost her senses, Raimondo tells him, and you, cruel man, are responsible for her life. To me this seems a rather ambiguous statement: does he mean that Enrico’s forcing her to marry Arturo is the reason for her madness; or does he mean that Enrico must now assume responsibility for her future health?

Lucia, still with Edgardo, begs him not to look so angrily at her; yes, she signed the paper, but in his rage he stamped on her ring and cursed her! I was the victim of a cruel brother, but I always loved you, Edgardo. Do not leave me, Edgardo. More chorus prayers to God for pity.

In the second portion of her aria she begs Edgardo to weep bitterly for her while she, in Heaven, will pray for him, and his eventual death will make heaven more beautiful for her. Enrico expresses remorse for his actions: the remainder of his life will be filled with bitter tears, while Raimondo and the chorus openly weep. She faints and the curtain falls.

Some diva Lucias of the distant past insisted that the opera end here – after all, most tragic operas end with the death of the prima donna, and why should she yield the last word to the tenor! Thank goodness that is no longer acceptable, for the next scene gives us Edgardo’s only aria and ends (spoiler alert!) with his death, though it differs from the one in Scott’s novel.

Our Act III, Scene 2

The libretto places the final scene in the grounds of Wolf’s Crag, where the graves of the Ravenswoods can be seen. This must be a mistake on Cammarano’s part: surely the Ravenswood family cemetery would be on the grounds of Ravenswood Castle, not at the distant Wolf’s Crag. Edgardo has come back to his ancestral home to meet Enrico for their arranged duel. The other reason why this scene must be at Ravenswood is that Raimondo and the men’s chorus enter from the Castle with the news that Lucia has died.

The orchestral introduction is a solemn affair: A fanfare-like figure from the full orchestra is answered by the horns, and then by an outburst from the winds and brass, while the timpani sounds ominous. It is dawn. Edgardo enters in despair. Addressing his buried ancestors he tells them that he, the last of the Ravenswoods, will soon join them, for life without Lucia has become intolerable. He notices that the Castle is brightly lit and imagines Lucia joyfully celebrating her marriage to Arturo. In the first part of his aria he sings, in D major, of the peace he will find in his forgotten and un-wept-for tomb. She must forget that he is there and never come near the place: at least have that much respect for the man who dies for her sake.

Men enter from the Castle. Clarinet and bassoon sing a mournful half-step in B minor while strings and timpani shudder in the rhythm that always indicates death in opera. The men sing that there is no hope for her: by evening she will be dead. Edgardo begs them to tell him who they mourn. It is Lucia. Her wedding, they tell him (in the tonic major), became a hell for her; she went mad; and now, as death approaches, she calls for Edgardo. A church bell is heard; horns and trombones intone a solemn rhythm; the awed chorus murmur that the death-bell tolls. Allegro vivace and strings begin an excited figure. The death-knell has decided Edgardo’s fate: he must see her again. He starts to rush off but is stopped by the arrival of Raimondo to a new idea in the strings. Lucia is dead. Flute and clarinet announce the melody of the final section of his aria. He begs Lucia to look at him as she ascends to heaven; but if the anger of men could keep them apart on earth, God will unite them in heaven. He draws a dagger and, despite the efforts to stop him, stabs himself. But the aria structure demands a full repeat, and many a mediocre composer would have abided by the structure, however dramatically ridiculous. But Donizetti was not a mediocre composer, and what he does is dramatically right. Yes, the accompaniment begins, but Edgardo sings only fragments of his original phrases – some of them written to sound breathless – while two solo cellos complete them. He does, though, summon up enough strength for the faster coda, and it must be said that the vocal line is cruel, hanging out as it does around a high F#, with (hopefully) a brilliant high Bb at the end. (More “large-scale” thinking going on here: This Atto Secondo began with the so-called “Wolf’s Glen” scene in D major and this final scene ends in D major.)

Thus ends one of the great masterpieces, not just of the Bel Canto era, but of all operatic eras. Enjoy it!

©Paul Dorgan