Donizetti’s Lucia, with its violent musical and theatrical contrasts, was the opera from which Giuseppe Verdi learned and borrowed most. One of the most exhilarating nineteenth-century Italian operas, it is distinctive for its fluid structure, sumptuous orchestration and expressive melodies and is arguably the most consistent of Donizetti’s serious operas.
The libretto, by Salvatore Cammarano (who would write further librettos for Donizetti and for other composers, including Verdi), is based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor. Set in late sixteenth-century Scotland, Enrico, a Scottish nobleman, is determined that his sister, Lucia, will marry Arturo, but Lucia is in love with Edgardo, her family’s enemy. Edgardo goes away on business but before he does, he and Lucia exchange rings. While he is away, ENrico forges a letter to prove Edgardo;s infidelity. Lucia is distraught and reluctantly agrees to marry Arturo. Edgardo arrive to find that Lucia has already signed the marriage contract. Enrico challenges Edgardo to a duel. During the wedding celebrations, Lucia appears carrying a bloody dagger. Driven mad by grief she ha murdered Arturo and in her deranged state, hallucinates that she is about to marry Edgardo. She dies. Edgardo, on hearing of Lucia’s death, also kills himself.
Composed and premiered in 1835, Lucia was an instant hit with the public and critics and, while his other serious operas were neglected and largely forgotten, Lucia was, and is, still performed. To this day the work holds a special place among Donizetti’s works, both in operatic history and in people’s affections.