The online guide to Donizetti’s aria IL DOLCE SUONO RISO (the mad scene)
Read Interesting facts and hear great YouTube Videos about the famous Aria “Il dolce suono riso” and “Quando rapito in estasi”.
The Aria – synopsis and background
In this contribution to the mad scene from the opera «Lucia di Lammermoor» we must talk about the topic «madness». The year of Lucia’s composition, 1837, was a happy time for Donizetti. Shortly after the triumphal premiere, Donizetti’s parents died, his wife had a miscarriage, gave birth a little later to a child who died shortly afterwards and died even after a few months. Donizetti wrote the shocking words «I will always be unhappy». A few years later his mental condition deteriorated, and he died of this disease in 1848. Even more spellbound we hear the mad scene of Lucia in the second act, «Il dolce suono…Sorge il tremendo fantasma».
Synopsis: Lucia loses her mind and kills Arturo during the celebrations. Then, she appears in front of the guests with bloodstained clothes and a knife in her hand. She fantasizes and finally collapses.
This aria is a highly virtuosic piece. The mad scene does not consist of an aria, but is a labyrinth of pieces that begins with an Andante arietta, then leads to a manic Allegro Vivace, followed by a recitativo accompagnato followed by Larghetto-Arie (with choir) and an Allegro-Trio with Enrico, Raimondo and full choir and ends in another aria plus coda. No wonder the scene is considered one of the most difficult. Rapid jumps between high and low voice registers and virtuoso ornamentation demand a virtuoso coloratura technique. Here you can see an illustrative excerpt from the score.
Donizetti wrote this aria with the accompaniment of a glass harmonica. Nowadays the famous passage is sung with the accompaniment of the coloratura sequence with the flute. In the listening example by Anna Netrebko and Nadine Sierra (below) you can hear a version with this instrument (in Anna Netrebko the solo cadenza is accompanied by flute). The effect is fascinating. In fact, the world premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor had to take place without the glass harmonica, because the interpreter of the instrument got into a legal dispute with the theatre and no replacement could be found. So he had to switch to the accompaniment of the flute.
In performance practice, many of the singers have embellished the aria as they see fit. Some of these interpretations have been adopted by other singers or have even become a performance standard (see the note on Nellie Melba below). This changed abruptly with Maria Callas interpretation of 1955. She caused a furore in this role and this largely in the version “come scritto” composed by Donizetti and with only a few additional ornaments.
Written for a dramatic coloratura soprano
The role of Lucia is written for a dramatic coloratura soprano. The dramatic coloratura soprano must have both coloratura ability and the ability to master dramatic expression with a larger vocal volume. If this voice can also sing lyrical parts, so it can happen that the “dramatic coloratura soprano” can sing a wide repertoire.
Il dolce suono mi colpi di sua voce!
Ah, quella voce m’e qui nel cor discesa!
Edgardo! io ti son resa, Edgardo, mio!
fuggita io son de tuoi nemici.
Un gelo me serpeggia nel sen!
trema ogni fibra!
vacilla il pie!
Presso la fonte meco t’assidi al quanto!
Ohime, sorge il tremendo fantasma e ne separa!
Qui ricovriamo, Edgardo, a pie dell’ara.
Sparsa e di rose!
Un armonia celeste, di, non ascolti?
Ah, l’inno suona di nozze!
Il rito per noi s’appresta! Oh, me felice!
Oh gioia che si sente, e non si dice!
Splendon le sacre faci, splendon intorno!
Ecco il ministro!
Porgime la destra!
Oh lieto giorno!
Al fin son tua, al fin sei mia,
a me ti dona un Dio.
Ogni piacer piu grato,
mi fia con te diviso
Del ciel clemente un riso
la vita a noi sara.
The sweet sound of her voice struck me!
Ah, that voice has descended into my heart!
Edgardo! I have surrendered to you, my Edgardo!
I have fled from your enemies.
A chill winds through my heart!
Every fiber trembles!
My heart falters!
At the fountain you sit with me!
Alas, the dreadful phantom has risen and separated us!
Here, Edgardo, at the foot of the altar!
Scattered with roses!
A celestial harmony, di, do you not hear?
Ah, the hymn sounds of marriage!
The rite is preparing for us! Oh, happy me!
Oh joy that is heard but not spoken!
The incense is burning!
The holy faces shine, shine all around!
Here is the minister!
Give me your right hand!
Oh happy day!
At last I am yours, at last you are mine,
God gives you to me.
All pleasures more grateful
will be shared with you
From the merciful heaven a laugh
Life will be to us.
Famous interpretations of IL DOLCE SUONO RISO
Listen to this scene urgently sung by Maria Callas in a recording, which became famous among other things by this scene, wonderfully accompanied by Herbert von Karajan.
Il dolce suono…Sorge il tremendo fantasma (1) – Callas/Karajan
In the 19th century it was a tradition to embellish the aria with one’s own decorations, cadenzas. One of these cadenzas became famous: «A drastic modification of this scene, however, was made about 30 years after Donizetti’s death. Around 1880 Australian soprano Nellie Melba dared to sing an extended cadenza with solo flute accompaniment at the end of the slow movement in question – an almost unbelievable tightrope act, in which the soprano gets involved in a competition with the flute according to the motto: «I can sing anything you can play, but higher». Listen to Nellie Melba, in a 1904 recording with this famous passage» (Abbate/Parker, A history of opera).
Del ciel clemente un riso (Cadenza) (2) – Melba
This madness cadenza subsequently became the most famous part of this opera and is faithfully reproduced to this day by most sopranos. Listen to the famous Joan Sutherland with the mad aria (and the cadenza shortly before 9:00).
Il dolce suono riso (3) – Sutherland
Finally for cinephiles you can see an excerpt from the movie «the fifth element». Where Bruce Willis watches an extraterrestrial singing the aria «il dolce suono» in an operahouse.
Il dolce suono riso (4) – Inva Mula / the fifth element
And now we come to a recording of Anna Netrebko in which a glass harmonica is used as an accompanying instrument (in Netrebkos Interpretation with the exception of the cadenza, which is played with flute), with which this aria was originally composed. It creates a fascinating, supernatural mood.
Il dolce suono riso (5) – Netrebko
The version featuring Nadine Sierra from a TV production at the opera house La Fenice is played with a continuous accompaniment of the glass harmonica.
Il dolce suono riso (6) – Sierra
Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to the Aria “IL DOLCE SUONO RISO” (Mad scene) from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.