Overture Hall will shiver with murder and madness this weekend when the Madison Opera presents its premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. Librettist Salvatore Cammarano based this tragic opera on Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor, a tale of two feuding families, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods, and their struggle to maintain power amid political turmoil.
The action takes place in Ravenswood castle in 17th-century Scotland near the Lammermuir Hills. Lucia (Luz del Alba) is sister to Enrico Ashton (Quinn Kelsey), lord of Ravenswood, who gained his title by killing its former lord. Edgardo (Robert Breault), the rightful master of Ravenswood and sole survivor of the Ravenswood line, was forced from his castle and has sworn to avenge his father's death, but there is a problem. Edgardo is hopelessly in love with Lucia and she with him. Problems compound when Enrico orders Lucia to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw (Heath Rush), whose wealth will save Enrico's crumbling fortune.
The shadow of madness comes over Lucia when she sees a ghost rise out of a ruined fountain and beckon to her, but when Enrico gets his way and marries her off to Arturo, she snaps and stabs her groom to death in the bridal chamber. Then comes the notorious mad scene aria, "Il dolce suono," and smiling, stony-eyed Lucia emerges in stained bridal white, singing sweetly to Edgardo, who isn't there.
"The mad scene is one of the great bel canto arias," says Allan Naplan, general director of Madison Opera. "These arias follow a structure, but there is tremendous flexibility in the cadenzas. They show off the gymnastics of the voice, and singers can make them as florid as they like. Luz del Alba, our Lucia, has sung difficult soprano roles like Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and she should have no problems with the high notes required of Lucia."
Donizetti wrote an Italian and French version of Lucia. "The French has had a resurgence lately," Naplan says, "but our production will be in Italian."
Lucia was a smashing success at its premiere in Naples in 1835, and that says a lot considering that audiences of the day ate, drank, smoked and laughed their way through operas now famous. They even sang along with the actors, sometimes shrieking at the high notes like wounded animals. When a deranged Lucia sang to her phantom Edgardo, the audience got quiet. And when the opera was over, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Donizetti demands brilliant singing of all his actors, so Enrico and Edgardo don't get off lightly. They give us some of opera's famous arias like "Cruda, funesta smania" in Act 1 and "Tombe degli avi miei" in Act 3. The famous sextet at the end of Act 2 attests to the composer's genius at melding drama and music with needlepoint intensity.
In Lucia, characters teeter on the edge of ruin. Lucia goes over the edge, Enrico is consumed by greed and, while Edgardo loves Lucia, he acts on it too late and meets his own untimely end. Their servants and the chorus try to sing sense and reason into them, but they resist and continue along their dark paths, singing their tragically beautiful songs.