By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note the telecast can be viewed at www.metopera.org.
Friday, May 15
Viewers’ Choice: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor ~ 2Hrs. 16 Mins.
Starring Joan Sutherland, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Elvira, and Paul Plishka, conducted by Richard Bonynge. From November 13, 1982.
This (nearly 40-year-old) telecast, although most certainly dated, offers another rare opportunity for us to experience some legendary stars from the past. Here, Joan Sutherland recreates the role that first catapulted her to international stardom, driving audiences wild with her opulent voice and seemingly effortless runs, trills, embellishments, and stratospheric high notes. The incomparable tenor Alfredo Kraus is Edgardo, the man Lucia loves but cannot have (think Romeo and Juliet style feuding families). Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, this Donizetti tragedy brings us yet another beautifully expiring soprano, following yet another of opera’s most famous mad scenes (see Hamlet last week). The fragile Lucia, whose mother has just died, loves Edgardo, her manipulative brother’s mortal enemy. The rest, as they say, is inevitable. Both of our young lovers struggle mightily against their fates and finally each chooses death over life without the other. Some twists on the standard Romeo and Juliet story keep us guessing – and involved – throughout the opera, until the lovers’ achingly beautiful final arias (no tearful duet, however – this time they are not reunited at the end!) So sorry – more tissues might be needed tonight if you are the emotional type.
When the opera opens, we find ourselves in 19th century Scotland on the grounds of Lammermoor Castle which is currently occupied by Lord Enrico Ashton. His Captain of the guard, Normanno, is directing their men to search the moors for a reported intruder. Enrico appears, confiding in Normanno that the family fortunes are gravely compromised and only an arranged marriage between his sister, Lucia, and Lord Arturo can save them. The chaplain Raimondo, who is also Lucia’s tutor, reminds Enrico that Lucia is still fragile and mourning the death of her mother. Normanno, however, reveals that he thinks Lucia is concealing a passionate love for Edgardo di Ravenswood, leader of the Ashtons’ political enemies. Enrico furiously declares he will have vengeance.
Just before dawn, Lucia and her companion, Alisa are on the moors hoping to meet Edgardo. In her famous aria “Regnava nel silenzio“, Lucia tells Alisa that she has recently seen the ghost of a young girl who was killed on that very same spot by a jealous Ravenswood ancestor. Alisa says it’s a sign that Lucia must abandon her love for Edgardo, but Lucia says she cannot. Edgardo appears, and tells Lucia he must leave immediately on a political mission to France. Edgardo wants to make peace with Enrico so he can ask for Lucia’s hand, but she tells him that is impossible. In their (only) passionate love duet, they swear vows of marriage and eternal devotion to each other before exchanging rings. Edgardo rushes off for France.
Act II is some months later – in fact, on the day Enrico is forcing Lucia to marry Arturo. We listen in on Enrico’s meeting with Normanno who assures him that all of Edgardo’s letters to Lucia have been intercepted and vice versa. In addition, Normanno has a forged letter from Edgardo to Lucia, telling her that he is now involved with another woman in France. When Lucia enters, continuing to insist that she will not marry Arturo, Enrico shows her the forged letter (shades of Luisa Miller except the genders are reversed). Devastated, Lucia is obviously near a dramatic soprano breakdown. Her chaplain Raimondo, thinking there is now no hope Edgardo will return, urges her to go through with the marriage to Arturo for the good of her brother and the family. Now feeling completely deserted with absolutely no support from anyone around her, she finally breaks down, agreeing to renounce her vows to Edgardo and marry Arturo.
Guests are seen arriving for the marriage celebration, including Arturo wondering why Lucia is not there to greet him. Enrico smooths things over by explaining that Lucia is still mourning her dead mother. Lucia appears, obviously distressed and disoriented. Arturo signs the marriage contract and Lucia is forced to do the same. Of course, who shows up at that very instant, but Edgardo claiming Lucia as his bride. This, of course leads to a great deal of chaos as well as a celebrated sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento (Who curbs me at such a moment) in which each character reflects on the horror of the moment. Edgardo is badly outnumbered, and believing that Lucia has betrayed him, curses her, and tears his ring from her finger before leaving in rage and despair.
Act III begins in the distraught Edgardo’s gloomy castle. Enrico enters to challenge him to a duel and taunt him with the fact that Lucia is at that moment enjoying her bridal bed. Edgardo accepts, now wanting only to kill himself on Enrico’s sword.
Back at Lammermoor castle, Raimondo enters to tell the assembled wedding guests that Lucia has gone mad and has slain Arturo in their bed (signaling the soprano’s big moment and the scene we have all been awaiting for the last hour and a half). Lucia appears, she is dazed and covered in blood. Her cabaletta “Spargi d’amaro pianto” following the more lyrical “Il dolce suono” which recalls her lost love for Edgardo, has been the breakthrough vehicle for countless coloratura sopranos (as it was for Sutherland). It is a technically and expressively demanding piece, and most sopranos also add considerable ornamentation of their own to demonstrate their particular technical abilities. This “embellishment” has been an operatic tradition since the bel canto period (Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti) and is an identifying element of the bel canto style. Sutherland is one of the greatest, so if you don’t have time for the entire opera, fast forward to here (Act 3, Scene 2). But after the “Mad Scene” you should also check out Scene 3 – at the graveyard of Edgardo’s family – where the duel is supposed to take place. Here we are treated to an almost equally impressive tenor death. He goes there to be killed by Enrico, but first, like Lucia he recalls their love:
Tombs of my fathers,
last son of an unhappy race,
receive me, I implore you. My anger’s
brief fire is quenched…I will fall on
my foe’s sword. For me, life
is a horrible burden! The whole universe
is a desert for me without Lucia!
When he learns from Enrico’s retainers that Lucia has gone mad and is dying of grief, calling out his name, he tries to rush to her side, but is stopped by Raimondo telling him of her death and saying she is now surely in heaven. Edgardo’s anguished aria, in which he kills himself before Enrico can, brings down the final curtain:
You who spread your wings to Heaven,
o sweet loving heart,
look down on me serenely,
and let your true love soar up to join you.
Ah, though mortal’s fury
so cruelly assailed us,
though we were parted on earth,
may God unite us in Heaven,
O sweet, loving heart,
may God unite us,
(drawing his dagger)
I will follow you…
1. Joan Sutherland in the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives – Louis Melancon.
2. Joan Sutherland as Lucia and Alfredo Kraus as Edgardo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives – Louis Melancon.
3. Joan Sutherland as Lucia and Paul Plishka as Raimondo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives – Louis Melancon.
4. Pablo Elvira as Enrico and Paul Plishka as Raimondo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives – Louis Melancon.
5. Joan Sutherland in the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives.