Major Operas | Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti | Early Romantic

While writing Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti observed a common custom of the 1830s; tailoring his music to the voices of the original cast. For example, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani (1812–67), who created the role of Lucia, was technically brilliant and Donizetti’s writing reflected her outstanding abilities.

Matching music to performers was a shrewd move: the formula increased the popularity of operas. In the case of Lucia, the effect on the first-night audience at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples on 26 September 1835 was startling. They became so caught up in the drama and in the plight of the lovers that many of them wept openly during Lucia’s mad scene preceding her death and Edgardo’s suicide. There was a French as well as an Italian version of Lucia, first performed at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris on 6 August 1839. Lucia was given in opera houses all over Europe and in Cuba, Mexico, the United States and even Indonesia and Trinidad; Lucia was the first opera to be seen on the Caribbean island in 1844.

Composed: 1835
Premiered: 1835, Naples
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, after Sir Walter Scott

Act I

In the grounds of Lammermoor Castle, Normanno leads a group of guards searching for an intruder. Enrico enters and laments his sister Lucia’s refusal to marry Arturo, a match that would save him from his impending political and financial ruin. Normanno reveals that she has been secretly meeting a lover who saved her from a wild bull. After further questioning, Normanno confesses that the man in question is Edgardo, Enrico’s bitter enemy, and he swears vengeance.

Near a ruined fountain, Lucia and her confidante Alisa await Edgardo. Lucia tells Alisa of a female ghost who haunts the fountain, and who has warned her that her secret affair will end in tragedy. Alisa pleads in vain with Lucia to end the relationship. Edgardo arrives and announces that he must depart for France on a political matter. He suggests that they tell Enrico of their affair and try to make amends, but Lucia, knowing Enrico will never allow it, begs him to keep it secret. Edgardo eventually relents. The lovers exchange rings and vows, and bid each other farewell.

Act II

In the months since Edgardo’s departure, Enrico and Normanno have continued to plan how to persuade Lucia to marry Arturo. They have been intercepting the lovers’ letters and forge a letter to Lucia from Edgardo, declaring that he loves another. Enrico shows Lucia the forged letter and, distraught, she hopes for death. Enrico reminds her of the benefits to be gained from her marrying Arturo. Lucia’s elderly tutor Raimondo, unaware of the deception and believing Edgardo to be faithless, gently persuades her to agree to the match.

At the wedding ceremony, Enrico explains to Arturo that their mother’s recent death is the cause of his sister’s melancholy demeanour. As soon as the bride and groom have signed the contract, Edgardo bursts in. He challenges his rival to a duel,...

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