March 25, 2018

How I would've ended "Lucia di Lammermoor"

Don't get me wrong - Lucia di Lammermoor is a legit masterpiece. Donizetti didn't always attain this level of inspiration; some of the sixty-something operas he created are to opera what baloney is to meat. Cheesy libretti and generic tunes, some of them.
Actual ruins of the Wolf's Crag in Scotland
(photo by Bubobubo2)

But it's clear that Sir Walter Scott's novel The Bride of Lammermoor captured his imagination; all his creative energy was engaged in adapting it for the stage.

As much as I admire the work, I've always found one aspect of it to be clunky and unsatisfying. It has to do with formal design. Here's the problem:

Lucia is the title role. Once she's made her initial appearance, she is seldom off-stage. Her role culminates in one of the most daunting challenges for any soprano from the vocal, musical and theatrical points of view: the Mad Scene.

It is a tour de force. A successful performance will encompass all the vocal colors in the artist's palette; it will employ movement and facial expression to trace the character's declining mental; it will overcome exhaustion and vocal fatigue to summon up the wherewithal for the final phrases and the obligatory high E flat. The scene calls for an incredibly large array of affects, including:
  • Lucia's obvious retreat to a "safe place" as, zombie-like, she has gone back in time to the rendezvous with Edgardo in Act 1;
  • Her sudden shrieks of terror at the apparition of il fantasma, the ghostly phantom she sang of in her first aria;
  • Her other-worldly fantasy of a happy wedding day with Edgardo;
  • The spectacle of the first climax: a cadenza reflecting the unhinged wandering of the remnants of her mind; and
  • The bitter irony of her ecstatic final moments, apparently believing that she is in heaven, looking down on her lover like some guardian angel

A routine performance will earn an ovation; a superior performance will always - ALWAYS - bring down the house with a prolonged roar. The tableau in the moment before the curtain drops is striking: Lucia, blood-spattered, has collapsed. Enrico, devastated by the full realization of what he has done, stares in dismay; the wedding guests and Raimondo transfixed, unable to look and yet unable to look away at the demented bride.

And.... CURTAIN.

See, that should be it. That should be the end, so that the epic ovation will bring the evening to a close. I mean, how can you follow the Mad Scene with anything?

But we must soldier on - we have a tenor waiting in the wings because he has not yet an aria. Edgardo had a duet in Act 1, the sextet in Act 2, and a short scene with Enrico that is often cut.

So - raise that curtain! We're not done! Edgardo's story must resolved. We must see him learn the truth of the forced marriage. And (perhaps most importantly) he must have two arias. Geez, even Raimondo got a couple of arias. what tenor in his right mind would accept a role with no arias??

So the problem: the Mad Scene is climactic; thus, Edgardo's scene is automatically, by definition, "anti-climactic". Add to this unfortunate reality that in his final solo "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali", he becomes one of those often-mocked characters who kills him/herself yet, oddly, is able to sing at length while expiring.

But what choice did Donizetti have? Plot-lines must be tidied up, tenors must be indulged. There just wasn't a way to end the opera with the grotesque glory of the Mad Scene, right?


Here's how I, Your Humble Blogger, would have re-written and re-structured Lucia to enable a less unsatisfactory finale.

We must abandon the entire final scene. It's gone! Don't worry, we're going to replace it with no injustice to the primo tenore. Let's examine the scene that follows the sextet; the one I mentioned as often being cut. In it, Edgar has fled the Aston's castle, having cursed Lucia and her supposed treachery. He is sulking in the ruins of the Ravenswood castle known as the "Wolf's Crag"

A storm rages outside; Edgar notes that it fits his current mood perfectly. Enrico barges in; his mission is simple: to put a violent end to this feud between the Ravenswood and Ashton clans. He and Edgardo agree to meet at dawn amongst the Ravenswood tombs for "the mother of all duels". In a duet of searing intensity, each anticipates victory over the other.

I see potential here! If I'm Donizetti, these are the choices I make:
  • As the curtain rises on the Wolf's Crag scene, give Edgardo the first of his two arias. Give him a cavatina expressing his heartbreak at the sight of Lucia being wed to another man. Slather on the brooding despair; spare no outpouring of lyrical grief. 
  • Let this be followed by a spirited cabaletta in which grief turns to rage. Now Edgardo can make poetic connections between the howling rain and wind outside and his anger at the rotten hand he's been dealt. Let the aria end with him vowing to avenge his honor. At that moment, Enrico can burst in, sword drawn.
  • Now we can have our intense tenor/baritone duet, all about their mutual loathing. But instead of pledging to fight it out the next morning, swords can be drawn and the duel can happen right now!
  • Bonus: we're getting a duel! As it stands in the opera Donizetti gave us, they're all talk and no action when it comes to a sword-fight.
  • Enrico gives Edgardo a fatal blow as lighting bolts flash in the sky. Exit Enrico, feeling a victory soon to turn hollow.
  • Enrico's entrance during the Mad Scene occurs halfway through, following the first climax at the end of Lucia's fantasy of marrying Edgardo. In the actual opera, Enrico is quickly apprised of the catastrophe that happened in his absence. In my version, Enrico, not yet aware of Lucia's presence, will report to Raimondo and the wedding guests that Edgardo will no longer pose a problem to Lucia and Arturo, the "happy couple". Then he can take in his sister's condition.
  • From there, the scene continues as presently performed: Lucia sings her final solo, the one about looking down on Edgardo from heaven. She collapses. The audience goes nuts.
AND WE ALL GO HOME. The demise of the title character brings the work to a close. There is no anti-climactic denouement.

Think about it. What would Aida belike if, following the tomb scene, we had a final scene in which Amneris had to sing about how she regretted everything? What would Il Trovatore be like if, following what is now the final scene, we had an extra scene in which the Count Di Luna decided to become a hermit in a monastery? 

No good! No good! You end with your strongest scene.

Kind of a shame Donizetti's dead, isn't it? Because I'm pretty sure he'd like my idea.... 


  1. I'll vote for your version.
    Today's matinee was beautiful, though.
    Why does the sextet always make me tear up?

  2. Yes! I agree -- change it.
    All I wanted during Edgardo's aria's was for them to quickly end so I could go home. But, it was a really great performance.

  3. This could work nicely! Or, for extra drama, have Enrico also be wounded in the duel but underestimating it, only to die later (Lucia too busy being mad to notice).

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