Go inside this production of Lucia di Lammermoor with engaging articles, opera notes, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
I have been a devoted admirer of the bel canto repertoire for all of my operagoing life. In introducing the two bel canto operas on Lyric’s schedule this season, an anecdote comes to mind.
When I was in my early teens, in Harrod’s record department in London, I was wandering around and was suddenly transfixed by an amazing voice. I knew I’d never heard anything like this. It was Dame Joan Sutherland singing the heroine’s aria from Rossini’s Semiramide. That performance led me to investigate all the great works of the bel canto repertoire, which remains to this day one of my greatest enthusiasms in opera.
For that reason, it is a particularly great pleasure for me that Lyric is presenting Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Bellini’s Norma this season (coincidentally, two works closely associated with Dame Joan, who had so much to do with shaping my love of bel canto singing). These are arguably the greatest operas of both of these composers, each a supreme master of this style. The two operas celebrate the glory of great singing, uniting extraordinarily memorable melodies with vocal virtuosity within an intense romantic narrative.
The two heroines are superbly contrasting examples of what makes bel canto repertoire so exciting. Each requires the ultimate in vocal technique, but also the ultimate in emotional investment. Lucia is the more lyrical of the two roles. Her music is crowned by the famous mad scene, one of the great vocal tours de force in all of opera – a high-wire act of vocal acrobatics and searing emotional impact. The role of Norma combines the requirement of stupendous vocal agility with a dramatic grandeur that makes her among the most challenging characters to sing and act in the entire operatic repertoire.
Of course, these operas are not one-woman shows; each needs an exceptionally strong team of principal artists to fulfill the vocal and dramatic demands. Lucia’s Edgardo is one of bel canto’s most passionate and hot-blooded heroes, while Norma’s Pollione requires a heroic machismo that makes him unique in this repertoire. Adalgisa in Norma has much ravishing music to sing (including three of bel canto’s most rewarding duets), and the powerful dramatic thrust in music for Lucia’s nasty brother Enrico can raise the roof with excitement. For the two bass roles – Raimondo in Lucia, Oroveso in Norma – a singer of innate majesty is required.
The two casts are both made up of very important artists, from whom you can expect sensational singing. Our leading ladies – Albina Shagimuratova (Lucia) and Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma), both previously triumphant at Lyric – have made a stupendous impact internationally in their roles. The return to Lyric of our Edgardo, Piotr Beczała, and the debuts of our Raimondo, Adrian Sâmpetrean, and our Pollione, Russell Thomas, are awaited with equal anticipation, as are two remarkable Ryan Opera Center alumni – Quinn Kelsey (Enrico) and Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa) and – and the return of longtime Lyric favorite Andrea Silvestrelli (Oroveso).
Of course, neither of these operas can succeed without brilliance from the pit and from the production team. Our two debuting Italian conductors, Enrique Mazzola (Lucia) and Riccardo Frizza (Norma), have made bel canto a specialty in many major international houses. We can fully expect the performances to boast an authenticity of style that will hugely enhance our audiences’ experience of these pieces. Lyric is presenting them in productions by Graham Vick (Lucia) and Kevin Newbury (Norma) that will each bring provocative and illuminating new insights to these justly beloved masterpieces.
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TIME: Early 18th century
In a feud between the Scottish families of Ravenswood and Lammermoor, Enrico Ashton of Lammermoor wrongfully holds the estates of Edgardo of Ravenswood. In addition, Enrico’s political activity against the king has placed him in a perilous situation, and he has resolved to reestablish his family’s position by marrying his sister Lucia to Lord Arturo Bucklaw.
Scene 1. Normanno orders his henchmen to discover the identity of the man whom Lucia is secretly meeting each day before dawn. Enrico is frustrated because he cannot persuade his sister to accept a marriage that will save him politically, and Normanno tells him his suspicions concerning Lucia’s lover. Enrico’s outburst is interrupted by the return of his men confirming that Lucia’s lover is in fact his enemy Edgardo.
Scene 2. Lucia awaits Edgardo in the woods by a fountain whose legend of a bloody phantom alternately fascinates and repels her. Edgardo arrives with the news that he must leave for France. He tells Lucia that before departing he wishes to ask Enrico for her hand in marriage. Terrified of her brother’s reaction, Lucia begs him not to. She tries to calm him when he renews his vows of vengeance upon her family. They solemnly pledge their troth by exchanging rings and vows of eternal fidelity, promising to write during their separation.
Scene 1. In his fury at his sister’s betrayal, Enrico has concluded marriage preparations for the union of his sister with Arturo. Despite his insistence, Enrico has failed to secure Lucia’s consent to this arranged marriage. Lucia remains obstinate even when presented with a letter, forged in Edgardo’s handwriting, announcing his marriage to another woman. Enrico explodes in rage against his sister. At Raimondo’s fervent pleading, the exhausted Lucia finally gives in.
Scene 2. The wedding party has assembled and Lucia has scarcely signed the marriage contract when Edgardo bursts into the castle demanding an explanation. Upon seeing the contract with Lucia’s signature, he curses her and her family forever. Enrico finally places his sister’s hand in Arturo’s.
Scene 1. In a tower of Edgardo’s gloomy castle, Enrico arrives at night to challenge him to a duel the next morning.
Scene 2. The wedding celebration is in progress when Raimondo brings the terrible news that Lucia has slain her bridegroom and has gone mad. In her delirium, Lucia wanders into the hall and imagines a wedding ceremony with her beloved Edgardo. Enrico returns and finds his sister insane. He suffers remorse as she loses all reason while begging Edgardo to pray at her tomb.
Scene 3. Unaware of all that has happened, Edgardo imagines Lucia’s happiness with Arturo and berates her for her infidelity. A party of mourners leaving the castle brings word of Lucia’s misfortune. As Edgardo sets off to see her one last time, Raimondo stops him with the news of Lucia’s death. In his grief, Edgardo stabs himself, hoping to be reunited with Lucia in heaven.
Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Opera.