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Hear An Introduction To 'Lucia Di Lammermoor'
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A Romantic Sensation: 'Lucia Di Lammermoor'

Music

A Romantic Sensation: 'Lucia Di Lammermoor'

Hear An Introduction To 'Lucia Di Lammermoor'
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140333090/140333385" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Elena Mosuc as the title character in 'Lucia di Lammermoor' at the Teatro Regio in Turin. i

Elena Mosuc as the title character in 'Lucia di Lammermoor' at the Teatro Regio in Turin. Alberto Ramella/SYNC/Teatro Regio di Torino hide caption

toggle caption Alberto Ramella/SYNC/Teatro Regio di Torino
Elena Mosuc as the title character in 'Lucia di Lammermoor' at the Teatro Regio in Turin.

Elena Mosuc as the title character in 'Lucia di Lammermoor' at the Teatro Regio in Turin.

Alberto Ramella/SYNC/Teatro Regio di Torino

In 1908, the superstar tenor Enrico Caruso and five colleagues made a recording that became an instant legend — both for the quality of its musical artistry, and for its exorbitant price. Fittingly, the music came from an opera that's been creating a similar sensation ever since its premiere in 1835.

The Hit Single

The opera's famous sextet begins when Edgardo suddenly appears near the end of Act Two hoping to stop Lucia's wedding to Arturo, only to find that she has already signed the marriage contract. It's sung here by tenor Francesco Meli as Edgardo, soprano Elena Mosuc as Lucia, baritone Fabio Maria Capitanucci as Enrico, bass Vitaly Kovalyov as Raimondo, tenor Saverio Fiore as Arturo and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb as Alisa.

Sextet: 'Chi mi frena in tal momento?'
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The recording is of the sextet from Act Two of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermooor. It was released on a single-sided record at a price of $7, earning it a nickname it has carried ever since: the "Seven-Dollar Sextet." In terms of buying power, seven 1908 dollars would've purchased roughly $170 worth of stuff in 2010 — and these days you can find the sextet online (legally) for free!

The B Side

Lucia's Act Three mad scene takes place on her wedding night, just after she has murdered Arturo. Still wearing her blood-stained nightgown, Lucia (soprano Elena Mosuc) goes completely nuts in front of a roomful of stunned wedding guests — singing music that's both fiendishly difficult and meltingly beautiful.

Lucia's Mad Scene
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The fame of the sextet itself hardly ended with that one recording. It turned up in the 1932 mob movie Scarface, whistled by a hitman played by Paul Muni. And its penetration into the wider culture continued in a similar vein in 2006, when the mob boss played by Jack Nicholson in Martin Scorsese's The Departed used the sextet's melody as his ringtone.

Yet the Lucia sextet probably isn't the opera's most famous number. That distinction would fall to the title character's great mad scene in the final act; it's hard to top a beautiful young bride, in a blood-spattered nightgown, going totally nuts after stabbing her new husband to death on their wedding night.

As for the opera itself, its cultural impact as a whole has also been impressive. From the start, it was seen as perhaps the ultimate expression of Romantic-era sensibility, and it made its impact felt in literature as well as in the theater. Lucia is mentioned in novels ranging from Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and E. M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread, to John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire.

Returning to the sextet: It may not be the opera's best-known number, and the opera in its entirety may be even more sensational than any of its great, individual moments. Yet the sextet does remind us that for Lucia's mad scene and the opera's compelling, Romantic story line to have their full effect, it takes a perfect storm of troubled characters and turbulent relationships — and they're all wrapped up in that one, exquisite ensemble.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in a production from the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy. The stars are soprano Elena Mosuc in the title role, with tenor Francesco Meli as Edgardo and baritone Fabio Maria Capitanucci as Enrico, in a performance led by conductor Bruno Campanella.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

The Story Of 'Lucia Di Lammermoor'

Set in Scotland, the opera is the story of Lucia, a woman who murders her new husband after being coerced into marrying him by her brother, Enrico. Enrico has taken over Ravenswood castle, which had belonged to Edgardo, Enrico's mortal enemy. Edgardo is also Lucia's lover, and the two have been meeting in secret, in a remote part of the castle grounds.

As ACT ONE begins, Enrico's men are busy combing the area for a reported intruder. There's speculation that Edgardo may have been hanging around. When Enrico hears rumors that Edgardo has been seen with his sister, he says he'd rather see Lucia struck by lightning than find her in the arms of his enemy.

In the next scene we meet Lucia. She's at the ruins of an old fountain, the secret place where she and Edgardo have been meeting. Lucia has been having visions. She's seen the ghost of a woman who died at the well, beckoning to her.

When Edgardo arrives, he tells Lucia he'll be leaving the country the next morning. The two pledge their love in a sensuous duet, with the voices seeming to wind around each other. They exchange rings, then Edgardo leaves as the act ends.

ACT TWO takes place at Lammermoor Castle. Enrico remains determined to see that Lucia and Edgardo will never be together, and it turns out he has purely practical reasons to keep the two apart. Their family is in financial trouble, and he hopes to solve the problem by marrying Lucia off to a wealthy nobleman named Arturo.

The act begins as Enrico is conferring with his friend Normanno. Enrico is afraid that Lucia will refuse to marry Arturo. So Normanno has concocted a phony letter — supposedly from Edgardo to Lucia, saying that Edgardo has found a new lover.

When Lucia appears, Enrico shows her the letter, saying she now has no reason to resist the marriage to Arturo. Lucia is shocked by the letter's contents, yet says she'd rather die than marry anyone other than Edgardo. But Enrico weakens her defenses by saying the family is in such dire straits that he may be executed if she continues to resist the wedding.

WHO'S WHO

Elena Mosuc ...................... Lucia

Francesco Meli ............... Edgardo

Fabio Maria Capitanucci ..... Enrico

Saverio Fiore .................... Arturo

Vitaly Kovalyov ............ Raimondo

Cristiano Olivieri .......... Normanno

Rebecca Jo Loeb ................ Alisa

Teatro Regio Orchestra and Chorus

Bruno Campanella, conductor

In the next scene, that wedding is about to take place, and guests are arriving. Arturo is worried about Edgardo, and his rumored relationship with Lucia. Enrico is struggling to reassure him when Lucia enters, and reluctantly signs the marriage contract — which to her feels more like a death warrant.

A commotion is heard when Edgardo unexpectedly turns up. The emotional confrontation builds into the opera's famous sextet, in which all the main characters express their conflicting emotions.

Arturo and Enrico draw their swords and order Edgardo to leave. He begins to resist, saying that he and Lucia have exchanged rings, and that she is rightfully his bride. But then they show him the marriage contract — with Lucia's signature. Not knowing that she was coerced into signing it, Edgardo curses Lucia, and throws the ring she gave him to the ground. At that, Enrico demands revenge, saying Edgardo will pay for his curse.

ACT THREE opens with a thunderstorm. Edgardo has left Lammermoor Castle and is holed up nearby in a deserted tower, brooding. Then he hears someone approach. It's Enrico, who has come to challenge Edgardo to a duel in the graveyard the following morning.

Back at the castle, the wedding ceremony has concluded, and the party is in full swing. But everyone freezes when the chaplain Raimondo appears, and they see the look on his face. He reports that while checking up on the newlyweds in their chamber, he found Lucia, bloody dagger in hand, standing over the body of her new husband — and clearly out of her mind.

Lucia herself then appears, in a bloodstained nightgown, and begins her big mad scene — a 15-minute roller-coaster ride of incredibly difficult music — a challenge for even the best sopranos.

In her delirium, Lucia hallucinates. She imagines herself reunited with Edgardo, with the two about to be married. But she also flashes back to her dream from Act One, about a dead woman at the fountain trying to separate them. The wedding guests look on in horror, and Lucia finally faints. Enrico returns to find his sister crazed and Arturo murdered.

The final scene takes place the next day. Edgardo is waiting in the cemetery, ready for his duel with Enrico. He has also given up hope. He knows he can't live without Lucia, and plans to let Enrico kill him. People from Lammermoor Castle then approach. They tell Edgardo that Lucia has lost her senses and is on her deathbed, calling out his name. He's determined to see her one last time, but bells are heard and Raimondo appears, saying it's too late — Lucia has died. Edgardo prays that he'll meet her in heaven. Then he pulls out his dagger, and stabs himself to death as the opera ends.

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