Donizetti – Excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoor

by Max Derrickson

Gaetano Donizetti   (b Bergamo, Italy, 1797; d Bergamo, 1848)

Excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoor

By the time Donizetti was 38 years old in 1835, he had already composed 46 operas – a particularly amazing feat – but could only boast of four to have gained any real popularity: Anna Bolena, L’elisir d’amore, Lucrezia Borgia and Maria Stuarda.  This was due, in part, to the mediocre librettos his opera companies supplied him, but also because he had to work under the long shadow of Rossini and Bellini.  More than once, Donizetti composed an otherwise great opera that was over-shadowed by a Rossini or Bellini masterpiece.  Such was the case, for example, with Donizetti’s Marina Faliero which premiered just after Vincenzo Bellini’s extraordinary I puritani in 1834, and was all but forgotten for 130 years.  When it was revived in the 1960’s, the world realized it was just shy of a masterpiece, foreshadowing traits that later made Verdi famous – great choruses and rich Romantic harmonies.


Donizetti did have decade of glory, however.  Starting with Rossini’s unexpected early retirement in 1829 and Bellini’s premature death a few years later, the Italian opera world was dominated by Donizetti who finally shone as its great star.  His reign began in 1835 with his immensely successful Lucia di Lammermoor and continued for roughly seven years until Verdi burst onto the scene with his Nabucco in 1842.  But it was his Lucia that soundly whisked Donizetti to the top, and his masterful opera has grown more beloved to audiences as it ages.


How this early Romantic opera was conceived, however, is a curious bit of converging history.  [. . .]

As Italians still seethed from Napoleon’s Kingdomof Italy(1807 -1814) and the subsequent rule of the Austrians thereafter, Donizetti’s deeper message in Lucia, however, was brilliantly cloaked to appeal to modern Italians – to a country that was struggling against its own malevolent rulers and desperately seeking autonomy – and the Scottish tale hit close to home.

Donizetti and Cammarano took a few liberties from the novel in their opera.  The names are Italianized, of course, and the details are amended to pack more power into the story – for example, Lucia’s penniless lover, Edgardo, was not just a country bumpkin (as in Scott’s novel) but was turned into a ruined Lord, robbed of his fortune by Lucia’s brother, and thus sworn to an oath of vengeance against the whole family, except for the beautiful Lucia, thereby intensifying the dramatic impact of the character’s actions.  The libretto by Cammarano was a concise work of genius, and Donizetti matched it with brilliant music of deep feeling.


The results make for one of the great operatic masterpieces in the 19th Century.  The most exceptional moment of the opera comes after Lucia has attempted to kill her new husband and has gone insane – to be sure, this “Mad scene” is one of the fabled moments in opera history, and it gained Donizetti particular fame.  But opera is typically more about music than story, [. . .]


As for paving the way to Romantic style operas, perhaps the two most important elements [. . .]

Narrative explanations of each Excerpt:


1) Act I: Cruda, funesta smania – Enrico

Lucia’s brother, Enrico, has been attempting to persuade Lucia to marry the rich Arturo, but cannot sway her.  He has just discovered that she is, instead, in love with his sworn enemy, Edgardo.  He rails at Lucia’s betrayal of her family.


2) Act I: Duet: Sulla tomba – Edgardo, Lucia

While at their secret meeting place, Edgardo has announced to Lucia that he must leave the country for perhaps a long while.   [. . .]