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The online opera guide and synopsis on LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR

Interesting facts and great YouTube Videos about Gaetano Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. Highlights are «Veranno a te sull’aure» with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti, , «Regnava nel silenzio» with Anna Netrebko, the «Mad scene» with Joan Sutherland, “Tu che a Dio spiegasti le ali” with Luciano Pavarotti, « Fra poco a me ricovero» with Placido Domingo and the sextett «Chi mi frena a tal momento» with Maria Callas.



Overview and quick access






♪ Act I 

♪ Act II

Recording Recommendation



Cruda funesta … La pietade

Regnava nel silenzio… Quando, rapito in estasi

Veranno a te sull’aure

Soffriva nel pianto

Chi mi frena a tal momento (Sextett)

Qui del padre ancor respira

Oh! qual fusto avvenimento

Il dolce suono … Sorge il tremendo fantasma (Mad-Scene)

Spargi d’amor pianto

Fra poco a me ricovero

Tu che a dio spiegasti l’ali




Roles and Synopsis






Naples, 1835


Salvadore Cammarano, based on The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott.

The main roles

Edgardo di Ravenswood, son of the former Lord of Ravenswood (tenor) - Enrico Ashton Lammermoor, Lord of Ravenswood (baritone) - Lord Arturo Bucklaw, influential nobleman (tenor) - Lucia, sister of Ashton (soprano) - Raimondo, chaplain and confidant of Lucia (bass) - Normanno, captain (tenor)

Recording recommendation

For Callas lovers: EMI with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Rolando Panerai conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the Choir of La Scala Milan and the RIAS Symphony Orchestra Berlin. For Sutherland lovers: DECCA with Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti and Sherill Milnes conducted by Richard Bonynge and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Convent Garden.








The literary basis for the opera was Walter Scott’s novel “The bride of Lammermoor”. Scott was Scottish and a famous and widely read author of historical novels. In this work he took real political facts and combined them with a classic “Romeo & Juliet” story. Librettist Salvatore Cammarano stripped away the rambling political entanglements and reduced the plot largely to a love triangle. Cammarano, a lover of the Gothic novel, enriched the plot in a highly romantic style with a ghost story and supplemented it with a mad scene.Donizetti was fascinated by Scottish history at the time; together with “Maria Stuarda” and “Roberto Devereux,” “Lucia di Lammermoor” forms the so-called “Tudor Trilogy.” Cammarano, originally a stage painter, wrote a total of six libretti for Donizetti; “Lucia” was the first collaboration and came about by chance. Donizetti had signed a contract with Naples for a July 1835 performance. The delivery of the material was delayed and he did not receive the sketch draft until May. The inexperienced librettist Cammarano (it was his first libretto!) was called in because he was on the spot and could thus get started right away in direct contact with Donizetti, since music and libretto had to be created in parallel. The work was completed on time at the beginning of July. Five more joint projects were to follow this collaboration.




The mad scene of the second act is one of the most famous opera scenes ever, and the connection to Donizetti’s later fate in the madhouse in Paris is one of the most tragic biographical peculiarities of opera literature. The cause of Donizetti’s mental problems lay in a syphilis infection he had probably picked up shortly before his marriage. There was probably a connection between the early death of his wife and two children and the disease, which led to feelings of guilt and resulting psychological instability. Donizetti was prone to manic-depressive fluctuations and serious symptoms such as headaches or problems of the digestive tract at an early age. To what extent he was already able to put himself in the emotional world of the insane Lucia 10 years before his great breakdown remains speculation.



The music

In “Lucia di Lammermoor” Donizetti displayed an incomprehensible richness of melody without having drawn on earlier operas. He was occasionally accused of a woodcut-like orchestration of “Lucia”. This criticism is partially justified. However, one must take into account the unheard-of time pressure that did not allow sufficient time to be given to this aspect. Since Donizetti was first and foremost a melodist and his audience also gave this aspect the highest priority, this aspect should be forgiven the composer. That he was capable of a masterful vocal treatment he shows in the important scenes, such as the sextet.



The role of Lucia

The Lucia of the premiere, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, was a classical coloratura soprano, although Donizetti had in mind rather a dramatic soprano with good coloratura-capabilites. While the role of Lucia was dominated for many years by “canaries” such as Adelina Patti, Jennie Lind and Co., Maria Callas changed the interpretive history and brought the role back to the dramatic field (dramatic coloratura soprano). The live performance in Berlin in 1955 with Herbert von Karajan played an important role. In the post-war period, Lucia became a parade role for many sopranos, and the rivalry between Callas devotees (“La Assoluta”) and Sutherland fans (“La Stupenda”) as to who was the best Lucia was warmly debated for years by opera lovers. Who was the better Lucia? Those looking for vocal qualities will probably be happy with the Sutherland recordings. Those looking for drama and passion will end up with the Maria Callas recordings. But make up your own mind in this opera portrait.




The premiere, planned for July, had to be postponed until September. The reason was the financial problems of the Neapolitan Teatro San Carlo, which meant that the singers could not be paid. In September it was time for the premiere, but economy measures forced changes, for example the theater did not want to meet the high demands of the glass harmonica player and no replacement could be found, so Donizetti had to rewrite the accompaniment for flute. Nevertheless, Donizetti was able to celebrate perhaps the greatest triumph of his career on this September 26, 1835, especially the madness aria led to tremendous ovations.







Synopsis: Enrico, the Lord of Ravenswood, is combing the area with his followers. They are looking for a mysterious stranger. Enrico suspects that it is Edgardo, the former Lord of Ravenswood, whose title of nobility Enrico illegally stole. Enrico has great financial problems and hoped to solve them by marrying off his sister, but she refused the arranged marriage to Arturo.

Donizetti opens the opera with a somber vision. The funeral march-like rhythm of this section is repeated several times throughout the opera. Dissonant tremolos, minor chords, and leaden winds portray the desolation and foreshadow the tragic events.




Cruda funesta smania…La pietade in suo favore

Synopsis: His chaplain Raimondo explains to the surprised Enrico that Lucia refuses the marriage for love of another man. When he voices the suspicion that it is Edgardo, Enrico is enraged and he vows to prevent this union by any means necessary.

In keeping with convention, Donizetti writes a scena ed aria. Both the cavatina and the cabaletta portray Enrico as a driven, unforgiving character. He is thus the classic antagonist of the lover of romantic opera type.

Listen to Tito Gobbi (1913-1984), perhaps the best belcanto baritone of his time in “Cruda funesta smania…La pietade in suo favore”.

Cruda funesta smania…La pietade in suo favore –  Gobbi


In a second interpretation, listen to Ettore Bastiannini, whose velvety voice was known for its brilliant high notes; amazingly, he began his career as a bass and then switched to baritone.

Cruda funesta smania  –  Bastiannini


Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito in estasi – two famous arias

Synopsis: Lucia has been meeting with Edgardo for some time and awaits him in the castle park. In the evening, at the fountain, she tells her maid with a dark face that the ghost of a dead Ravenswood once appeared to her, who had been murdered by a relative at the fountain and has been buried in the depths of the fountain ever since. Soon her spirits brighten again, triggered by the anticipation of Edgardo’s imminent arrival. Her maid warns her that Enrico knows of her love affair and advises her to desist from the union.

Lucia sings the legend of the fountain. This famous aria shows Lucia as a dreamy and thoughtful woman; her vocal lines are lyrical, yet brilliant in their ornamentation. Strings and winds enter in piano. The heavy brass spread a somber mood. After two measures, the clarinet enters with an arpeggiated figure. This continually repeated figure reinforces the nocturne-like mood, and the voice enters in piano over the arpeggiated figures. This arrangement allows the singer to expressively shape the melody of “Regnava nel silenzio.” Three trills in “si pria limpida” are particularly noteworthy. Lucia’s mood brightens with the cabaletta “Quando rapito in estasi”. Donizetti expresses the excitement about Edgardo’s imminent arrival with great leaps of tone, which present the singer with considerable difficulties. Donizetti also writes remarkable rubati in this aria, such as how time almost stands still in “Il ciel per me” and then immediately changes to tempo in “Si schiuda il ciel per me”. Or, for example, the trill in the middle of the aria, which extends over two measures. This first part is repeated again. For the ending, Donizetti chose an artful twist: the second last “ciel” ends on a C and with a beautiful figure he repeats once again “Si schiuda il ciel”, which ends on a spectacular D.

Maria Callas made stage history with the role of Lucia.  The famous producer Walter Legge wanted to set new recording standards with the Scala ensemble and Serafin, and chose “Lucia di Lammermoor” among others. Kesting (“Die grossen Stimmen”): “The recording of Lucia was not yet finished when Legge sent the last three minutes of Act II on a tape snippet to Karajan. He immediately decided to stage the work himself, and he soon traveled to Berlin and Vienna with the troupe. Callas as Lucia caused pandemonium in both opera houses, and it was not least this success that determined Vienna to appoint Herbert von Karajan as successor to the retired Karl Böhm at the State Opera.”

Hear Maria Callas in a magnificent and haunting interpretation of this aria in this recording conducted by Tullio Serafin.

Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito in estasi (1)  –  Callas/Serafin


You will hear a second beautiful interpretation by Anna Netrebko. With this role she convinced in the years around 2007. She shows a lyrical and colorful interpretation. However, she is not a classical coloratura soprano, as you can see from the trill passages (compare the recording with Joan Sutherland below).

Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito in estasi (2)  –  Netrebko


The third recording is by Joan Sutherland.  Lucia was one of her most important roles. In 1959, the then 32-year-old catapulted into the top league with London’s Lucia di Lammermoor and became Maria Callas’ great rival in the Bellini / Donizetti repertoire. Ironically, the conductor at the time was the Italian maestro Tullio Serafin, who rehearsed with the Australian Sutherland a musically and dramatically convincing Lucia. Sutherland became one of the outstanding coloratura sopranos of the century. In the following recording from 1968, you will hear why. The way she masters the difficult trill passages with virtuosity is unique.

Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito in estasi (3)  –  Sutherland

Edgardo appears

Synopsis: Edgardo appears and explains that he has to go to France for a delicate political mission. But first he wants to reconcile with Enrico in order to clear the way for marriage. When Lucia asks him to keep their love a secret for the time being, Enrico becomes indignant. But Lucia implores their love.

Edgardo is aroused, his dotted motive showing his turmoil. Lucia tries to calm him with a long, emotional cantilena. She is successful, for the duet ends in the with a beautiful cadenza sung together.

Sulla tomba – Callas / Campora


Synopsis: Lucia implores Edgardo to write to her from France, and they solemnly exchange engagement rings.

Donizetti wrote this spectacular duet in unisono, which move in octave intervals. He intended it to emphasize the consummate harmony between the two, thus highlighting the contrast to the upheavals that follow.

We hear this famous piece in three versions.

First, Joan Sutherland with Luciano Pavarotti:

Verrano a te sull’aure (1)  –  Sutherland/Pavarotti


Next, Maria Callas with Giuseppe di Stefano:

Verrano a te sull’aure (2)  –  Callas/diStefano


A unique duet pair were Tito Schipa and Amelita Galli-Curci.

Verrano a te sull’aure (3)  –  Galli-Curci/Schipa




Synopsis: During Edgardo’s absence, Enrico has intercepted his correspondence to Lucia. He arranges the wedding with Arturo and gives Lucia forged letters, which are supposed to prove that Edgard loves someone else.

Soffriva nel pianto – Callas / Gobbi



Se tradirmi potrai – the intrigue of Enrico

Synopsis: Lucia resists Enrico’s marriage plans. But he presses her, claiming that his fate is sealed if she does not consent to the marriage.

In a fiery cabaletta, Enrico presses the unhappy Lucia. “Let the bridal chamber be prepared,” Enrico urges – “the grave,” Lucia replies.

Listen to Maria Callas in this duet “Se tradirmi potrai”.

Se tradirmi potrai  –  Callas/Panerai


Synopsis: Her confidant Raimondo also plays Enrico’s card and he asks her to sacrifice herself for the honor and welfare of her family. Now Lucia, humiliated, agrees to marry Arturo.

With the solemn, stilted tone of a priest, Raimondo puts pressure on Lucia. A clumsy dotted rhythm and the exaggerated use of trumpets, trombones and timpani testify to Raimondo’s monstrosity. Lucia knows that this step means the destruction of her life.

Al ben de’tuoi qual vittima  –  Sutherland/Siepi



The wedding scene

Synopsis: The guests are gathered in the great hall to witness the signing of the contract and the wedding. Arturo impatiently awaits the arrival of Lucia, Enrico claims that she is still in mourning for her deceased mother. When she appears, she is deathly pale and apathetically signs the contract.

Donizetti lets the violins narrate this scene. With a pleasing melody from the violins, Arturo and Enrico converse in anticipation of Lucia. When she appears, the orchestra abruptly shifts to the tragedy of descending figures played by the violins. “I have signe my sentence” she whispers as she signs the contract.

Dov’è Lucia – Callas / Franke / Sordello


Synopsis: Suddenly, noise is heard. Horrified, the guests realize that Edgardo is intruding on the wedding scene. Edgardo is blinded by rage.

Literature lovers may be familiar with the passage from Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” in which Emma Bovary visits the Rouen Opera with her boring husband and the Flaubert writes about the sextet with his protagonist’s thoughts. In a slow-motion moment (called a “concertato”), the main characters in this sextet sing their pain, anger and confusion off their souls. Musically, Donizetti has resolved this moment in an interesting way. The sextet begins with the two arch-enemies singing in harmony. The whole sextet is written in major key, it is the calm before the storm. Commenting on this famous passage, Giacomo Puccini said that in one respect the Italians surpass the German composers, namely in the ability to express infinite sadness in the major key.

In the history of opera, the importance of this piece should not be underestimated; it became the model for an entire generation. On a par with the “Rigoletto” quartet, the sextet represents one of the unsurpassed high points of Romantic ensemble culture.

In 1908, tenor Enrico Caruso and five singers made a recording of this sextet that became a legend – both for the musical artistry and the exorbitant retail price of the recording. It was sold on a one-sided record at a price of $7, earning it a nickname it has carried ever since: the “Seven-Dollar Sextet.” This corresponds to a selling price with today’s purchasing power of about $170.

Chi mi frena a tal momento  –  Caruso et al.


Another famous circumstance around this beautiful piece has occurred in the fifties. You will find a famous scene of a legendary Berlin recording of 1955 with Karajan and Callas. Sensational was the fact that Herbert von Karajan ordered a “da capo” because of the great moment.

Chi mi frena a tal momento (Sestetto)  –  di Stefano / Panerai / Callas / Zaccaria


Synopsis: Enrico and his followers draw their swords, but Raimondo is able to convince them to spare Edgardo’s blood. He shows him the marriage certificate and asks him to leave the place. Staring incredulously at the paper, Edgardo demands his ring back from the hopeless and surprised Lucia and leaves the castle.

T’allontana sciagurato – Kraus / Plishka / Elvira








Synopsis: Edgardo has returned home. A thunderstorm is raging outside.

Donizetti composed extremely effective thunderstorm music that ingeniously draws the feverish, dark atmosphere.

Orrida è questa notte –  Bergonzi


Synopsis: Enrico seeks him out. In an agitated dispute, accompanied by the noise of a thunderstorm, the two agree to a duel the next morning.

This performance is divided into two parts according to a fixed pattern, the slow “Qui del padre ancor respira” is followed by the oath to kill the opponent in the duel (“O sole, più rapido”).

Listen to a gripping duet of the two mortal enemies interpreted by Luciano Pavarotti and Sherill Milnes.

Qui del padre ancor respira  –  Pavarotti / Milnes


Synopsis: In the wedding hall, the guests are celebrating the wedding. Then Raimondo appears and reports that Lucia has stabbed her husband to death in the wedding bed. The guests are shocked.

In this passage we hear the voice of the priest Raimondo over a hymn-like chorus that already foreshadows the choral passages from Zaccaria and the Jews that Verdi will compose seven years later in “Nabucco”.

Oh! qual funesto avvenimento! – Ghiaurov / Bonynge



Lucias Mad Scene

Synopsis: Lucia appears with bloodstained clothes and a knife in her hand. She fantasizes and then collapses unconscious.

This famous aria is a highly virtuosic piece. The so-called mad scene does not consist of an aria, but is a labyrinth of pieces that begins with an Andante, then leads into a manic Allegro vivace, is followed by a Recitativo Accompagnato followed by a Larghetto aria (with chorus) and an Allegro trio with Enrico, Raimondo and full chorus, and ends in another aria plus coda.  No wonder this scene is considered one of the most difficult in operatic literature. Moreover, rapid leaps of tone between high and low vocal registers and virtuosic ornamentation demand a virtuoso coloratura technique. Donizetti wrote this aria with an accompaniment originally with a glass harmonica and added a version for flute. Nowadays, the famous passage is usually sung with the accompaniment of the coloratura sequence with the flute.

In performance practice, many of the singers embellished the aria as they saw fit. Some of these interpretations were adopted by other singers or even became a performance standard (see the note on Nellie Melba below). This changed abruptly with Maria Callas interpretation accompanied by Herbert von Karajan from 1955. She made a furor in this role and this largely in the version “Come scritto” i.e. as composed by Donizetti and with only a few supplementary ornaments.

Il dolce suono…Sorge il tremendo fantasma (1)  –  Callas/Karajan


“A drastic modification of this scene, however, was made some 30 years after Donizetti’s death. Around 1880, the Australian soprano Nellie Melba dared to sing an extended cadenza with solo flute accompaniment at the end of said slow movement – an almost unbelievable tightrope act in which the soprano engages in a contest with the flute along the lines of ‘Anything you can play, I can imitate, but higher'” (Abbate/Parker, A History of Opera). Listen to Nellie Melba, in a 1904 recording of this famous passage.

Del ciel clemente un riso (Cadenza) (2)  –  Melba


This madness cadenza subsequently became the most famous passage in this opera and is faithfully reproduced by most sopranos to this day. Listen to the famous Joan Sutherland singing the Madness Aria (and the cadenza just before 9:00).

Sutherland’s voice “is the happy combination of the fullness of a dramatic soprano voice with the treble assurance and coloratura fluency of a ‘soprano d’agilità’.” (Fischer, “Große Stimmen”). The great heights, however, were not God-given; she had to work for them; at the beginning of her training she was still considered a mezzo-soprano. Her husband, the pianist and conductor Richard Bonynge recognized that she had the potential and “unlike her, he had absolute pitch, and so he was able to deceive her by driving her voice up, claiming that she sang a third lower than she actually did; thus she accomplished things in private work that she would not have dared to do in public.” (Fischer, “Große Stimmen”).

Il dolce suono riso (3) – Sutherland


We hear an exciting recording by Anna Netrebko from a performance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in which a glass harmonica is used as an accompanying instrument (except for the cadenza, which is played with flute). The instrument creates a fascinating, supernatural mood.

Il dolce suono riso (3) – Netrebko

Synopsis: Enrico returns and realizes what has happened. He sees his sister’s state and pity seizes him. Lucia now takes her leave, she fantasizes and asks her lover to shed a tear at her grave.

Lucia is already enraptured, she has reached the stage of delirium. We hear only virtuoso trills and scales. The scene ends with a beautiful stretta accompanied by the flute.

Spargi d’amaro pianto  –  Callas



Edgardo’s great finale

Synopsis: Edgardo has lost his will to live and he is ready to die at the hands of the enemy.

The ending belongs to Edgardo and the chorus. There follows another classical scena ed aria that begins with the cavatina “Fra poco a me ricovero.” Heavy trombone chords and descending semitones in the recitative (“Tombe degli avi mei”) announce the approaching calamity. The melancholy cavatina is accompanied by a funeral march-like motif in the winds.

Listen to this passage sung by Placido Domingo in the recording with Giulini. We hear a voice, in the flower of its beauty in an aria that is wonderfully suited to his rich voice in terms of tessitura.

Fra poco a me ricovero  –  Domingo / Giulini


Synopsis: A group of people passes by his home. Edgardo learns from them what happened in Ravenswood, and that Lucia is dying. Suddenly church bells ring out, the sign that Lucia has died.

This scene is magnificently laid out. The orchestra’s music is written in the rhythm of a funeral march. To this we hear the chorus and, above it, the poignant cantilenas of Edgardo.

O meschina – Pavarotti


Synopsis: Edgardo has lost the courage to live. He stabs himself with the dagger in order to be united with Lucia in heaven.

We hear at the end an expressive melody of the tenor which is accompanied by a string trio after the fatal wounding.

We hear this ending in two versions.

We start with Luciano Pavarotti. The 1971 Edgardo, along with the other two Donizetti roles of Nemorino and Tonio, are among his greatest recordings of his career and have not been surpassed in recording history.

Tu che a Dio spiegasti  l’ali (1)  –  Pavarotti


Don’t miss the recording with Tito Schipa from the twenties. No one can bring so much emotion in his voice.

Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali (2)  –  Tito Schipa


Recording recommendation


For Callas-admirer: EMI with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Rolano Panerai under the direction of Herbert von Karajan and the Choir of the Milan Scala and the RIAS Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin.

For Sutherland-admirer: DECCA with Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti and Sherill Milnes under the direction of Richard Bonynge and the choir and orchestra of the Royal Opera House Convent Garden.




Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR


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