Lucia di Lammermoor

"Lucia di Lammermoor" is an Italian opera set in Scotland, in apparent payback for "Romeo and Juliet", a British drama set in Italy, with the same plot. And it does strike me as an essentially Italian opera, not a Scottish one. I am willing to grant that Scots may be just as passionate, violent, and vengeful as Italians, but it seems to me that they are less likely than Italians to sing about being passionate, violent, and vengeful to the face of their enemy while challenging him to a duel.

The setting is at about the time of the death of Henry VIII. For some reason the Santa Fe Opera decided to make the costumes and accessories vaguely Edwardian in style. I don't think this works very well. For one thing, both Scotland and Italy were far too well governed by then to put up with this sort of shenanigans. For another, it seemed rather out of character for the wild Scottish chieftain to take off his smoking jacket and put on a frock coat to go in to dinner.

As in "Romeo and Juliet", the plot is that two young people from feuding families have fallen in love. The main difference in the plot of "Lucia di Lammermoor" is that Lucia and Edgardo are old enough to know better. Romeo and Juliet manage to screw things up mostly by themselves. But because of their increased maturity Lucia and Edgardo have to have help screwing things up. This is provided in the person of Lucia's brother Enrico. Enrico is the current head of one of the two feuding families, the one currently in the ascendent. But politics are changing, due to the death of Henry, and to maintain the ascendency over Edgardo's family he feels he needs to forge a new alliance. This he proposes to do by marrying Lucia to Arturo, the sion of another prominent family with currently favorable English connections. Lucia, in love with Edgardo but afraid to say so, is resisting. Edgardo is sent off to France on some unspecified diplomatic mission (Scotland at the time was enjoying a "the enemy of my enemy must be my friend" relationship with France, anent the English).

Enrico manages to intercept the lovers' correspondence, and eventually forges a letter purporting to come from Edgardo, which says something like "Hey babe, it's over. I've found somebody else." After soliquizing a bit about whether he should forget his dreams of political power and do what would give everlasting happiness to his sister, Enrico says "Naaaa" and hands her the letter. Crushed, she consents to marry Arturo.

On Lucia's wedding day, immediately after she has signed the wedding contract, Edgardo, hieing back from France, bursts in and says "What's going on here?" He is shown Lucia's signature on the wedding contract, and totally devastated, storms out, without ever speaking directly to her. He goes and sits brooding in the ruins of his family castle. Enrico, furious about the disruption of the wedding seeks him out and challenges him to a duel at dawn. Edgardo plans to commit suicide by enemy, by losing the duel, and sets to work digging his own grave.

Lucia is completely unhinged by all this, and when she and Arturo retire to the bridal chamber, she relieves him of his dagger and stabs him to the heart. She reappears in the ballroom, covered in gore, for her famous mad scene. I think the scene is more famous for its spectacular music than the madness (it has a higher ratio of hallucination to delusion than I would like, though I'm certainly no expert). Donizetti hit upon the idea of having everything she said echoed by the solo flute, apparently feeling that talking to the flute is the musical equivalent of talking to the wallpaper. The scene calls for her to wander off on her own, unaccompanied, and to come back and cross with the flute precisely on key, and similar sorts of vocal fireworks. (For mad, I prefer Lady Macbeth. But I admit that artistically, the duet with the flute ranks up there with one of my favorite lines from Shakespeare, the
"No, this my hand shall the multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red."
Which I like so much because of the dramatic effect of switching from words with latin roots to words with anglo-saxon roots at the end of the line.)

Lucia proceeds to her death bed, apparently propelled only by psychosis. Word is brought to Edgardo, just before his dawn appointment. Enrico also shows, up, too distracted to be very interested in a duel. When the word of Lucia's death is brought, Edgardo decides to take things into his own hands, and raising his dagger high, plunges it into his heart.

Forensically the ending is a little weak. People don't die of psychosis alone (although I suppose a fulminating case of hydrophobia could explain the whole incident). And a dagger plunged downward at the chest is likely to bounce off the ribs, leaving only a nasty cut in the skin, or else to follow the rib cage down to where it can inflict fatal damage on the bowels, leaving the suicide to die in agony many hours later. But, as in Romeo and Juliet, the moment calls for dramatic and effective self-immolation, and who am I to gainsay it.

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