Gaetano Donizetti: Lucie de Lammermoor (1839)

Opera en deux actes et en quatre parties. Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes.

The review is of the 2005 Glimmerglass production, but the slightly longer Virgin Classic release with Dessay and Alagna is probably a better choice.


Forman obviously reviewed the Italian original, but the French version is different enough to merit its own review. The plot is mostly the same except for the removal of Alice (thus isolating Lucie as the sole female character) and an expansion on the character Normanno from the original who is now named the more appropriately French Gilbert who acts as a paid double agent between Henri Ashton and Edgard Ravenswood. The role of Arthur Bucklaw (Lucie’s eventually murdered groom) is logically expanded while Lucie’s support from the Calvinist minister Raimond is essentially eliminated apart from being the officiant and announcing the whole Lucie has killed Arthur bit, isolating our prima donna still further. These changes seem to make for a more compact and satisfying drama, if providing a logical reason for Lucie’s rampage of death in her near solitary confinement. The timer will be for two acts rather than starting at zero again for each of the four parts since the opera is meant to be performed with only a single intermission between parts two and three.


ACT 1: (72 minutes)

PART 1: A clearing and fountain in Ravenswood Forest.

0, 2, 12, 23, 32: The prelude * is gloomy but in the appropriate “high drama” sort of way. It is followed by a rousing if sort of stock-level opening male hunting chorus *. Musically it is identical to the Italian opening but it is followed by a long patch of new recitative between Henri Ashton and our new character Gilbert which establishes the plot: Lucie is to be married off to Lord Arthur Bucklaw but he already knows about her relationship with their family’s mortal enemy, Edgard Ravenswood, the sole survivor of the family who originally owned the estate the Ashton’s now live on. Gilbert reveals that he will help him bring down Edgard and seems to be on Henri’s side as he admits to being in the pay of both men to him (so soon?) and that Edgard and Lucie are about to meet at the fountain to exchange rings as tokens of their love. This prompts the first of two cavatinas for Henri, the first mild and interrupted by the amicable return of the hunting chorus but leading to a fiery cabaletta ** in which the chorus tries to reign him in (quite useless really). Arthur arrives (yes, already!) and greets prospective brother-in-law Henri. He is worried that Lucie and Edgard are still an item, but Henri tries to reassure him otherwise. Arthur also informs him that his uncle, a Lord Athol, has been sent to the court of France but is to return soon for the wedding. Gilbert says that he will spy on the lovers during their rendezvous and everyone else leaves to a repeat of the opening chorus. Gilbert reveals that he already has Lucie’s confidence before she arrives to an ardent orchestral accompaniment. Instead of talking about the dead girl in the fountain she is left alone to contemplate how pure and clear its source is and she waits eagerly for Edgar by embarking on a lovely duet with a solo flute ***. This aria, or at least the first section, is taken from Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, but the best part being the second half when she goes into a lot of coloratura firework. Edgard finally arrives (well over a quarter into the opera) and gives Lucie some distressing news: he has been called to the court of France (what is up with everyone having to go to France, pretty soon Lucie will be called to France and the whole action will be transplanted to the Continent!), and he has to leave the very next day. They embark on a duet which goes through all of the emotions *** sorrow over the soon departure, the rapture over exchanging their rings as tokens of their eternal love. Again the second half is better than the first. They part as the curtain falls.

PART 2: A gothic hall in Lammermoor Castle.

45, 49, 53: Gilbert, who is apparently also going to France because we find him in traveling clothes as the curtain rises, has sowed Henri’s seeds of suspicion and Edgard now believes that Lucie has betrayed him and Gilbert stole Lucie’s ring from his finger while he slept so that it can be returned to Lucie as part of her desolation. Henri is now going to work on his sister who arrives in a fury **, he shows her a forged letter and Gilbert presents her with the ring she gave Edgard. Gilbert leaves. She is destroyed but recognizes her apparent  betrayal with exquisite beauty ***. Arthur is heard arriving (hunting horns again), Henri reveals that if she doesn’t marry him the family will be in financial ruin hence his need for Lucie to marry Arthur ***. Given that she thinks her lover has dumped her, she consents.

61, 63, 70: Now we have one of those awkward Donizetti choruses, serviceable enough, but if I were Arthur I would have requested better back-up singers. Arthur embraces Henri (he seems to like him a lot more than Lucie) and they wait for her to show up. She arrives to some thing that Forman said resembles a Rossini overture as she contemplates signing the marriage contract **. Edgard arrives and we enter into the climax of the opera really with first a duet with Henri and then we get the sextet although this time it consists of five soloists and the chorus counting as one soloist ***.  Edgard is ordered out of the castle (very slowly) by Henri and Arthur, he decides to leave only after Lucie reveals that she has already signed the marriage contract leading to a fine stretta **.

ACT 2: (45 minutes)

PART 3: A gallery in the castle, an illuminated garden at back, night.

2: We are spared the sotto voce bridal chorus (here it is entirely orchestral) and we enter a brief dialogue between Gilbert and Henri before Gilbert leaves and Edgard arrives and they embark on a duet that has one great tune ** first from Edgard, then from Henri as he rather disgustingly goes into a fantasy about Lucie losing her virginity to Arthur (she’s your sister sicko!). Edgard, and me, can only take so much and they challenge each other to a duel to an oddly military finish. This is hardly the Wolf’s Crag scene but it gets the job done.

9: The guests pops in for a song-and-dance but are cut short by the arrival of “Le Ministre” Raimond as he goes into gory details about how Arthur’s heart’s blood (and not Lucie’s hymen) drenches the bridal bed. The guests greet this bit of horror with a stately choral number **.

13, 26: Lucie arrives for the only thing she does in the entire act: her twenty minute long marathon mad scene ***. Everyone feels so sad, she sings about with a solo flute again thinking she is meeting Edgard at the altar. Henri returns to discover that his meal ticket has been sent to Animal Farm and he tries to make his sister recognize him but she starts thinking he is Edgard and he realizes she has gone insane, and he has driven her to commit a rather gory murder. She goes into Ophelia mode *** (still flute duetting with her). Eventually she collapses, dead presumably.

PART 4: The Ravenswood family cemetery, the castle illumined in the distance.

34, 41: Doleful horns tell us that all that is left is a tragic finale. But first we get a long cavatina from Edgard ** as he believes that Lucie has found her joy with another. Noblemen arrive and tell him that Lucie has killed Arthur and is now herself dead. A distant church bell tolls, and he goes into one last cavatina before committing suicide ***.   The opera ends weirdly with Edgard forgiving Henri (arriving for their duel), who probably least deserves it.


I will mostly be just making a comparison to the original here. Most of the changes are actually rather good. Instead of the seven tableaux of the original, here we have only four. Thus the drama is much tighter. We also have one fewer soloist, which is good for budgetary reasons. The symmetry of having Edgardo’s two scenes frame Lucia’s mad scene in act 2 is gone but given that the first scene of the act was generally cut until recently, that isn’t so much of a problem. Expanding Arthur’s role was also a great idea seeing that he comes off as little more than an extra in Lucia even though he is the one Lucy actually kills! Gilbert is also a more interesting character than Normanno, although his contribution to the plot falls apart after the first act (he only has a recitative with Henri at the start of the act and then shows up, silently, at the end acting as Henri’s second for the duel). He doesn’t even get to be part of the sextet! What makes this more of a shame is that he is also the work’s comic relief. Lucie’s psychological trauma has a better build due to her isolation because Alice doesn’t exist (and the loss of her story about the girl in the well would just be overkill, we know that when she arrives here that she is crazy, we don’t need her to go M. Night Shyamalan on us!) but the one thing I can call out as a flaw is the role of Raimond, the minister. What exactly is his motivation now for witnessing the aftermath of Lucie’s murder of Arthur? In Lucia we get to know him and he has a cavatina and cabaletta in which he pressures the heroine to give in to the marriage with Arthur, but here he is just the minister! Granted said number is also the weakest non-choral number in the entire opera but there is no build up for why the character is important enough to literally give away the punch line of the entire narrative unless you know the original opera. Oh, and what is up with not just one but three separate characters (one never seen) all having royal orders to go to France on the same day, and only one of them (the unseen Lord Athol) actually goes? Otherwise, this is an interesting improvement on an opera that really didn’t need to be improved on, although oddly enough I think I like the French version more! An alpha of course.

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