In Paris in 1835, Donizetti could not hope to compete against the wave of enthusiasm for I Puritani by his rival Bellini. His Marino Faliero, inspired by Byron's drama of the same name, and with the same singers as I Puritani, namely Giovanni Battista Rubini and Giula Grisi, enjoyed only a very short run. He had his revenge a few months later however, albeit a sad one: three days before the first performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, Bellini died at the age of thirty-four. Lucia was a huge success thanks, notably, to Grisi and Rubini's principal rivals, Fanny Persiani and Gilbert-Louis Duprez. With Rossini in retirement since 1829 and Bellini in his grave, Donizetti was now master of the European operatic stage. He did not remain so for long however. Even before Verdi came to fame, he succumbed to madness, that terrible affliction whose accents he so brilliantly captured and which dominates this Scottish opera. Inspired by Sir Walter Scott's novel, the story unfolds in an old ruined castle amid the wild and misty moorland. As Balzac later pointed out in Massimilla Doni, virtuosity is the very soul of a prima donna and Donizetti succeeds with sublime mastery in combining drama consummate vocal writing, bringing to the role of Lucia a quality both heart-rending and exquisitely delicate. In Lucia di Lammermoor, madness is neither an abyss nor a descent into hell, but deliverance and sublimation.
Opéra Bastille - First performance on 7 September 2013 - 7:30PM
Audio description for visually impaired on 29 September, 1 and 4 October
- Lucia di Lammermoor
LIBRETTO BY SALVATORE CAMMARANO AFTER WALTER SCOTT'S NOVEL "THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR"
|Andrei Serban||Stage director|
|William Dudley||Sets and costumes|
|Alessandro Di Stefano||Chorus master|
Edgardo di Ravenswood
Edgardo di Ravenswood
(6, 9 oct.)
(A) (7, 13, 20, 26 Sept, 1 Oct)
(B) (10, 17, 23, 29 Sept, 4, 6, 9 Oct)
Live on Radio Classique on 26 September after a full day live from the Opéra Bastille
Born in Bergamo in 1797, Gaetano Donizetti occupied a transitional place between Rossini and Verdi. Less affected by romanticism than Bellini, Donizetti was the link between two trends to which Italy owes its most authentic masterpieces. We owe him an abundance of lyrical works: some sixty operas composed between 1816 and 1843, most of which have fallen into oblivion. As a student of Simon Mayr at the Bergamo School of Music, his first opera, Enrico di Borgogna, was performed in 1818, thanks to the help of his teacher who had recognised his young talent. In 1822, Zoraide di Granata met with remarkable success. Then, a series of commissions turned Donizetti into a full-time composer of operas. From 1822 to 1830, he wrote no fewer than 26 operas. His first real triumph came with Anna Bolena (1830). The death of Bellini and Rossini’s premature retirement would contribute to Donizetti’s growing success in Europe. He composed Les Martyrs, La Favorite and Dom Sébastien for the Paris Opera. La Fille du régiment was first performed at the Opéra Comique. Vienna commissioned Linda di Chamounix and Maria di Rohan from him. His final masterpiece, Don Pasquale, was first performed at the Théâtre des Italiens in 1843. Although at the height of his glory, his health deteriorated rapidly. Hospitalised in Ivry in 1846, he died in 1848 in his native town of Bergamo from complications due to cerebrospinal degeneration. He left many other operas to posterity, including Lucrezia Borgia (1833), Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Maria Stuarda (1835), Roberto Devereux (1837), Maria di Rudenz (1838) and Caterina Cornaro (1844).
Salvatore Cammarano’s libretto drew its inspiration from Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor and Victor Ducange’s tragedy based on the novel and written 1828. The archetypal Italian opera in which the tragic destiny of the heroine goes hand in hand with vocal virtuosity, Lucia de Lammermoor is generally considered along with Don Pasquale to be Donizetti’s masterpiece. The numerous ornate melodies always reflect the dramatic content of the work, particularly in the famous sextet at the end of the second act which in many ways heralds the music of Verdi with each of the six characters expressing different feelings which gradually blend together. The work is most famous for the long “mad scene” in Act III, one of the jewels of romantic bel canto. This bravura piece requires an artist possessing not only an exceptional technique but also a true feeling for theatre. Somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, Lucia relives the great love duet of Act II. For a few minutes she imagines that she has married Edgardo, before reality catches up with her. The voice passes from virtuosity to rapture whilst expressing the depths of suffering and despair in its exchanges with the flute. This highly elaborate scene transcends simple vocal dexterity to become an essential element of the work.
The first performance
The Italian version was created at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 26 September 1835. A French version using a translation by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, revised by the composer himself and including numerous cuts, was first performed at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris on 6 August 1839.
The work at the Paris OperaLucia di Lammermoor was performed at Le Peletier on 20 February 1846 in the French version. The work was first performed at the Palais Garnier on 9 December 1889 with Nelly Melba in the title role. There were numerous revivals until 1970 with, among others, Lily Pons (1935), Joan Sutherland (1960-1961), Mady Mesplé (1962-1963-1968-1969-1970), Christiane Eda-Pierre (1968-1970). The original version entered the repertoire of the Opéra Bastille in 1995 in a production by Andrei Serban, conducted by Maurizio Benini, with June Anderson, Roberto Alagna and Gino Quilico in the main roles. It is this production, already revived with Mariella Devia, Sumi Jo, Andrea Rost and Natalie Dessay in the title-role, that is being performed today.