Opéra en trois actes by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
First performance: Paris, Théâtre de la Renaissance, 6th August 1839
Review on original sources by J. Chalmeau © Ricordi
In the autumn of 1835, in Naples, Gaetano Donizetti achieved one of the greatest triumphs of his career with Lucia di Lammermoor, which became the very model of Italian Romantic melodrama. The opera soon toured the world and was also performed in its original Italian version in Paris, at the Théâtre des Italiens, in 1837. Two years later, Donizetti decided to produce a French version for the Théâtre de la Renaissance, a theatre in Paris with an innovative repertoire but fewer economic and artistic means than the Opéra. Salvadore Cammarano’s libretto was translated into French and simplified by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, the librettists who were writing L’ange de Nisida, later to become La favorite, for Donizetti and the Théâtre de la Renaissance. The composer made some changes to the score, creating what is, by all means, a different opera, the ‘other Lucia.’ Among the most significant changes is Lucie’s cavatina, replaced with that of Rosmonda d’Inghilterra according to a practice that Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, the first interpreter of the Italian Lucia, apparently followed before that. The roles of Alisa and Normanno, confidants of Lucia and Enrico respectively, are combined in that of the traitor Gilbert, who thus acquires greater depth. One scene (the duet between Raimondo and Lucia) is cut, many others are simplified or rewritten, and Arthur – the betrothed – makes his entrance already in act one. This new Lucie de Lammermoor made its debut at the Théâtre de la Renaissance on 6 August 1839 with enormous success. It remained in the French repertoire throughout the nineteenth century and became a cornerstone of national culture, as demonstrated by, among other things, the chapter of Madame Bovary set by Flaubert at the theatre in Rouen during a performance of Lucie.
Scotland, seventeenth century. Henri Ashton explains to his confidant Gilbert that, for political reasons, he has decided to marry his sister Lucie to Arthur Bucklaw, the powerful Lord Athold’s nephew. However, Lucie is in love with Edgar Ravenswood, the last member of the Ashtons’ rival family. Gilbert informs Henri of a secret rendezvous between Lucie and Edgar. Then comes Arthur, and he is reassured by Henri about Lucie’s love for him. In any case, Arthur says, his uncle has ordered Edgar to go to France on a diplomatic mission. Pretending to be her friend, Gilbert accompanies Lucie to the place where she is to meet Edgar. While she waits for him, Lucie laments that the old hatred between the two families makes their love impossible. Edgar arrives bearing the sad news that is about to leave. But, before that, he asks Henri for his sister’s hand. The two lovers exchange rings and bid farewell.
Gilbert has followed Edgar to France, intercepted his letters, and made a copy of the ring Lucie had given him. Back in Scotland, he reports everything to Henri, who is even more determined to conclude the marriage with Arthur. In a dramatic confrontation, Henri tells Lucie that Edgar no longer loves her, shows her the ring, and tells her that only her marriage to Arthur can save him from political disgrace. Lucie surrenders. Accompanied by a festive choir, Arthur arrives and, as Lucie despairs, the wedding ceremony begins. The marriage contract has just been signed when Edgar bursts in, challenging Henri and Arthur. Raymond, the chaplain, prevents the confrontation and shows Edgar the signed contract. Believing that Lucie has betrayed him, Edgar curses her.
Gilbert informs Henri that a man has come looking for him. It is Edgar in disguise, who challenges his enemy to a duel: they fight at dawn. Meanwhile, as the wedding party is taking place at the Ashton castle, Raymond suddenly interrupts it and brings terrible news: Lucie has lost her mind and killed Arthur. Lucie appears, maddened, raving about her love for Edgar, about her curse, and proclaims that she will soon die. In the meantime, Edgar is waiting for Henri at the scene of the duel. The chorus informs him that Henri will not come and that within an hour Lucie will be dead, then reveal that the woman has always been faithful to him. Edgar is distraught and invokes Lucie for the last time, stabs himself, and dies in Raymond’s arms.