Opera Scotland

Lucia di Lammermoor Lucy of Lammermoor

Music
Gaetano Donizetti (born Bergamo, 29 November 1797; died Bergamo, 8 April 1848)

Text
Salvatore Cammarano

Source
Novel The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

Premières
First performance: Naples (Teatro San Carlo), 26 September 1835.
First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket), 5 April 1838.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal, Dunlop St), 17 September 1846.
Scottish Opera première: Newcastle (Theatre Royal), 24 September 1974.

Background
Lucia was the only example of Donizetti’s great tragic operas to survive in regular performance during the century after his death. Even then, it was performed in such a heavily abbreviated style, frequently with entire scenes omitted, that it was impossible for audiences to assess its merits properly, in spite of great sopranos such as Patti, Melba or Tetrazzini taking the title role. Even performances with Callas omitted the powerful scene for tenor and baritone and much other music in the last act, leading to the famous mad scene. In recent years it has become customary to treat the work seriously, and perform it complete, and we have also become more familiar with the composer’s other works. These developments prove Lucia to be one of the great operas of the romantic era, full of novel touches and cleverly paced to accentuate the drama. His other operas show a remarkably high degree of consistency, sometimes with quite lurid subject matter.

Characters
Enrico – Lord Henry Ashton of Lammermoor (baritone)
Raimondo – Bide-the-Bent, his chaplain (bass)
Lucia – Lucy Ashton, his sister (soprano)
Alisa, her companion (mezzo-soprano)
Edgardo – Edgar, Master of Ravenswood (tenor)
Arturo – Lord Arthur Bucklaw (tenor)
Normanno, a follower of Ashton (tenor)

Plot Summary
The setting is the hills southeast of Edinburgh, around 1700. Henry Ashton, an impoverished landowner, has been involved in a conspiracy against the government. To retrieve his fortune and reputation, he decides to marry his sister Lucy to Arthur Bucklaw, a neighbouring aristocrat. Lucy’s lover, Edgar, an enemy of Henry’s, is sent on a mission to France, and Henry intercepts his letters to Lucy. Believing herself abandoned, and advised by her chaplain, Lucy gives in to the pressure applied in the interests of her family and agrees to marry Arthur. After the ceremony has been performed, Edgar returns in time to denounce Lucy’s betrayal, to the astonishment of the assembled company. During a storm that evening, Henry visits Edgar at his castle, and they agree to a duel the next day. When Lucy and her husband are alone she stabs him to death, and returns to interrupt the celebrating party guests below. She has clearly lost her wits. In the nearby churchyard, Edgar is communing with his ancestors when the chaplain comes to tell him of Lucy’s actions, and that she has now died. Edgar stabs himself.

RECORDINGS

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1971

Conductor: Richard Bonynge
Orchestra of Royal Opera House Covent Garden
Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Luciano Pavarotti (Edgardo), Sherrill Milnes (Enrico).

Sutherland’s second studio recording of Lucia shows her still in resplendent voice, even if there is a marginal loss of freshness and spontaneity compared to the 1961 account. However the rest is all gain, and the Covent Garden company and a superb batch of principals make this the most viscerally exciting recording. The restoration of the duet between Lucia and her brother to its original high key doesn’t stop Sutherland and Milnes from popping out the high notes, and the effect is thrilling. The strength of Bonynge’s conducting is to build the tension in paragraphs, so that the marriage, sextet and first act finale build tension admirably. The second act works even better, with the Wolf’s Crag scene leading to the drunken party, shocked entry of Raimondo and the great chorus all leading inexorably to the mad scene. It is appalling to thing that vast chunks of this stuff was traditionally cut to concentrate attention on the soprano. No wonder the piece was written off for so long. The support is excellent, with Nicolai Ghiaurov as Raimondo and Ryland Davies as Arturo. The only disappointment is Pavarotti’s too emotional performance of the final scene.

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1976

Conductor: Jésus Lopez-Cobos
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Montserrat Caballé (Lucia), José Carreras (Edgardo), Vicente Sardinero (Enrico).

This recording continued the process of restoring Lucia to its rightful position as one of the masterpieces of romantic opera. Caballé finds the restoration of the score suits her admirably – a heavier voice with less in the way of obvious display. Her lack of stage experience in the role is a slight disadvantage. However, there are suggestions that the original soprano in fact had quite a light voice. What is not in doubt is that Carreras gives a glorious performance, with his voice at its peak, perhaps the best performance of Edgardo on record. The supporting cast includes Samuel Ramey as Raimondo, perhaps not as horrified as he should be on discovering the murder. Good support comes from Ann Murray as Alisa and the excellent Munich-based Swede Claes-Haakon Ahnsjö in the important role of Arturo. The conductor’s approach is generally dramatic, and very effective in the important Wolf’s Crag scene.

SONY (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1997

Conductor: Charles Mackerras                                             

When this recording first appeared, it must be said there was a sense of disappointment from the pundits, who complained of a lack of atmosphere. It is clear that Mackerras was trying something novel at the time – an “authentic” approach to a bel canto opera. As with the Caballé recording, there is an emphasis on the original key structure, with a general absence of interpolated high notes, though Rost has a much lighter voice. He goes further, in that the period style Hanover Band sounds completely different from the usual approach with a modern symphony orchestra – thinner, and perhaps less beautiful, but it changes the emphasis too. Furthermore, the use of Bruce Ford, usually known as a Rossini and Mozart tenor, makes Edgardo sound completely different by comparison with the performances of tenors more accustomed to the later repertoire of Verdi and Puccini. There are very good performances from Anthony Michaels-Moore, Alastair Miles and Louise Winter. And twenty-five years after his Arturo in the Bonynge set, Ryland Davies still makes an impression as Normanno.

The Cast

Alisa
 Ailsa, Lucy's companion
Arturo
 Lord Arthur Bucklaw
Edgardo
 Edgar, the Master of Ravenswood
Enrico
 Lord Henry Ashton
Lucia
 Lucy Ashton, Henry's Sister
Normanno
 the Ashtons' forester
Raimondo
 Bide the Bent, the Ashtons' chaplain

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