Gaetano Donizetti: Edgardo di Ravenswood (1835)

Opera in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours 29 Minutes.

Call this review a boys night out.

SETTING: 19th century, a war torn country somewhere in Western Europe. Edgar (tenor) is the lord of Ravenswood, and although in a personal war with Henry Ashton (baritone) lord of Lammermoor, is in love with his sister Lucy (soprano). In an attempt to end their love, Henry forces Lucy into marrying one Arthur Bucklaw (tenor) whom Lucy murders during their wedding reception in a fit of madness after Edgar calls her out for betrayal and breach of promise, leading to the suicides of both of the lovers.

For most of the 19th century, Lucia de Lammermoor was generally billed more as a vehicle for lead tenors than for coloratura sopranos. There are logical reasons for this that can be deducted from both the libretto and the score: the entire plot really revolves around the animosity between Edgar and Henry (which makes more sense when the opera is performed without cuts and entire scenes built for Edgar clarify the plot line), Lucy is their pawn, and although she is the only person in the opera who actually takes action on anything (by committing a rather gory murder) she does so because she has gone insane over her desire for Edgar. Lucy is really more of an ingenue role, closer to Leonora in Il Trovatore than Anna in Maometto II, and apart from her mad scene (a massive, twenty minute, example of operatic time freeze and ornamental vocal display in which the soprano interactions with no one apart from a flute or a glass harmonica, betraying allegiance to the maxim of effects without cause), the drama really isn’t hers, it belongs, again, to Edgar. The opera even ends on a tenor cabaletta, a break with the traditional soprano cabaletta finale so common in Italian 1830s opera, in which a suicidal Edgar pines away for the already dead Lucy just before a planned duel with Henry. In the entire opera, the tenor and soprano leads only sing together twice, Lucy is far less mysterious a character than Edgar (she is so uncomplicated that all of her motivations are made painfully obvious within half an hour of being introduced to her), nor is her downward psychological spiral really all that interesting. Although Lucy does get several scenes in which she is confronted by either Edgar or Henry, after the wedding scene she all but disappears apart from the mad scene, while Edgar gets two long tableaux framing the murder/suicide of the soprano. In 1995, Opera Bastille mounted a production which sought to recapture the tenor-centric concept with its deemed odd staging of a psychological and updated version of Edgardo, with a bearded Roberto Alagna in both the title role and very tight blue jeans (not to mention Gino Quilico as Henry and June Anderson as Lucy), reminding us that perhaps our modern understand of this opera has robbed the opera going public of an interpretation that is well worth critical admiration. Although those sets are another story!


ACT 1: (42 minutes)

Scene 1: A barracks.

2: Percorrete le spiaggie vicine After the rather dreary prelude we get probably the weakest number in the opera, a jumpy opening chorus from the soldiers *.

7: Cruda, funesta smania Captain of the Guard Normanno reports to Enrico that an intruder has been spotted near the castle grounds, this is obviously Edgardo, which is later confirmed after a cavatina for Enrico *, another chorus from the soldiers, and a conversation with the chaplain Raimondo.

12: La pietade in suo favore Enrico finishes the scene with a brief cabaletta ** of revenge as he vows to destroy the love between his sister and his political rival.

Scene 2: A park near a fountain.

19: Regnava nel silenzio After a nearly four minute long intermezzo featuring a harp, we encounter Lucia and her confidant Anna by a fountain and the younger woman goes into her dream *** of a dead girl who was killed by her lover, a Ravenswood. Anna says it is a bad omen and that she must give up Edgardo.

32: Sulla tomba che rinserra Edgardo arrives and tells Lucia that he must escape to France. He hopes to reconcile with Enrico and marry her ***, but Lucia says that this is impossible and they exchange marriage vows (and rings) on the spot. He departs, she collapses. Curtain.

ACT 2: (39 minutes)

Scene 1: The Barracks.

0: A better prelude, almost a sunrise prelude **, although nothing could be further from the truth from a dramatic standpoint in the narrative.

5: Il pallor funesto, orrendo A forlorn Lucia comes to visit her brother (from the music it is apparent that this is against her better judgement), she begs Enrico not to force her into marrying someone other than Edgardo in a tense duet **. He gives her a forged letter, supposedly from Edgardo, telling her to give him up. This also does not move her. Eventually he has her sedated and tied up.

18: Ah! cedi, cedi Enrico’s next move does not even directly involve him: he gets Raimondo to try to convince Lucia to marry another man in order to restore harmony in her family **. He is rushed off to the ceremony.

Scene 2: A hall in the castle.

24: Per te d’immenso giubilo A racing wedding chorus, possibly one of the worst numbers in the opera, is followed by the vocal introduction of Arturo **. While Arturo and Enrico sign the marriage contract, and try to force Lucia to sign, Enrico tells the groom that the bride is still getting over the death of her mother a few months earlier.

30: Chi mi frena in tal momento Edgardo breaks in on the wedding just after Lucia signs the contract, and he and Enrico finally come close to an on-stage violent encounter, starting off the central episode of the opera (literally, it is the mid-point of the score) the famous sextette ***.

36: T’allontana sciagurato Edgardo sees the signed marriage contract (handed to him by Raimondo) and condemns Lucia for betraying her vows to him in a violent stretta finale ** when he throws the ring she gave him to the ground and tramples it. He is forced out of the hall by the guests, and Lucia collapses. Curtain.

ACT 3: (61 minutes)

Scene 1: Wolfcrag. a desolate spot.

0, 3: Qui del padre ancor respira Edgardo comes on during a violent, stormy prelude **. Enrico visits him and challenges him to a duel ***, mocking him by telling him (falsely as it turns out) that Lucia is being sexually ravished by Arturo, and liking it! They will meet at the Ravenswood ceremony, where one of them will die among Edgardo’s ancestors.

Scene 2: Same as Act 2 Scene 2.

9, 14, 19, 39: D’immenso giubilo/Oh! qual funesto avvenimento!/Il dolce suono/Spargi d’amaro pianto One of the better choruses in the opera **, just before the Comedy of Errors is found to have blood in the water and Raimondo arrives with the news (and gory details) that Lucia has slaughtered Arturo in the bridal chamber ***. She embarks on a massive, twenty-five minute, mad scene ***, accompanied famously by a flute and a glass harmonica, while her brother slowly realizes that the fruits of his hatred have consummated in an unintended murder. Lucia eventually collapses, and the scene cuts somewhat abruptly ***.

Scene 3: The Cemetery.

44, 50, 56: Tombe degli avi miei/Fra poco a me ricovero/Tu che a Dio We come upon more forlorn preluding and then Edgardo in the first part of a two part final aria *** which is probably just as much the crowning moment of the opera as the scene before it. Raimondo comes on and tells Edgardo that Lucia is dead. Enrico barely has enough time to vaguely reconcile with Edgardo *** before the later stabs himself upon seeing the dead Lucia and embarks on that brilliant second part of the finale ***. He collapses, and dies. Curtain.


This opera is rightfully cherished for its wonderful score and tragic plot, but my take here is meant to emphasize the relationships, not centering on Lucia, as is usually the case, but of the men in the drama. For much of the 19th century, this opera was considered a tenor’s opera, and that has essentially vanished as a concept in the modern era. Perhaps unwisely.

The primary focus of the opera has little to do with Lucia at all, it really is about the rivalry, even the hatred, between Enrico and Edgardo, which almost borders into the realm of homoeroticism with its bizarre intensity. Lucia is their pawn, possibly even decoy, and her one instance of lashing out and acting as an independent person is when she commits an almost out of nowhere act of mariticide against the vaguely developed character of Arturo, which itself is loaded with symbolism. This is really a pathetic last cry for help before she totally loses her mind and dies. The male characters are the ones who manipulate, Normanno through greed, Raimondo through authority, Enrico through hate, Edgardo through love. The two men who die are the only ones who are not a part of Enrico’s inner circle, Normanno and Raimondo are basically henchmen, the former managing somehow to ruin Edgardo, and the latter using his religious position to manipulate Lucia for her brother. Ironically, it is also Raimondo who gives the gory report of the murder scene later in the opera. It also may not be problematic to speculate that Normanno has plotted out the entire situation against Edgardo in order to get into Enrico’s better graces. The murder of Arturo does seem to not be on anyone’s minds as a potential way to kill of Edgardo, and appears to be bizarre and random, but how can we know for sure that Lucia is not, yet again, being manipulated to fulfill the goals of the men in her life, and is completely a free agent? There is no apparent motive from the men, but there might be one below the surface. After all, the marriage and the murder triggers the events leading to the deaths of the heroine and the hero of the piece in a domino succession. But it starts off with this seemingly minor tenor character part. Eventually, Enrico does give up, and even develops a shallowly brotherly affection for the heartbroken and suicidal Edgardo (who never really hates Enrico the same way the latter hates him, in fact he mentions reconciliation at least once in action of the opera, just before he makes his vows to Lucia), but it is far too late, and only after so much blood has already been mindlessly spilt. Anna is mostly a prop who was later dropped in the French version of the opera, so we can otherwise ignore her, but notice the placement of two very important and somewhat subtle theatrical conventions. The first is that Edgardo and Enrico are finally on stage together only at the very mid point of the opera, the sextet in act two scene two, which they basically dominate as Lucia tries to tread water. Up to this point both men have only been seen in isolation of each other. The second is Lucia’s mad scene, it is the penultimate scene, not the finale. In 1830s Italian operas, doesn’t the prima donna get the final word? Not here! In fact the final act frames the soprano with two massive scenes for the tenor. The mad scene, although rightfully famous, is also a musical cliffhanger (the scene just ends and we cut to the cemetery and Edgardo), and Lucia’s narrative in the opera is actually left in the air as it where. In many ways, Enrico’s change of heart as a result of witnessing the fruits of his hatred is actually more developed dramatically, even if his sister gets the musically more built up scene, ending on that famous E-flat. Not so with Edgardo, who, although he somewhat shows up for the first time in the opera out of almost no where, gets a fully developed conclusion to his narrative, and also while still technically sane. This is unusual to say the least, although the opera in general is rather unique, which is probably the reason for its undying success these last two centuries.

I believe that, ironically, the Opera Bastille was able to accomplish a recreation of the argument for this opera as a tenor’s opera this through a combination of brilliant singing, conducting, and costuming, but some of the most brutalist sets and makeup imaginable.

In any case, hopefully you all enjoyed this bit of speculation on an opera which is theoretically about a woman but which is probably really more about the men in her life. I hope you also enjoy this score as much as I have grown to do so over the years. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: