It’s the same sad tale as always: young lovers destined for doom.
In “Lucia di Lammermoor,” to be performed this weekend by The Kentucky Opera, beautiful Lucia is in love with dashing Edgardo. The pair meet up at the old castle ruins — always a popular site for secret lovers — where they pledge their undying love.
Alas, their love will not be undying. In fact, there will be considerable dying later on.
The problem is Lucia’s brother, Lord Enrico of Lammermoor, who is long on title but short on cash. Enrico’s solution for his financial problems is to marry his sister off to a rich guy — and he has his mark picked out.
That’s why, back at the ruins, Lucia makes Edgardo promise to keep their love secret. Reluctantly, Edgardo agrees — though it is really not such a difficult vow to keep since he is being called away from Scotland to attend to business on the continent.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: out of town doesn’t count.
But that’s not the difficulty; Edgardo is a faithful kind of guy. It’s Lucia who can’t hold up her end of the deal.
Lucia is fragile from the get-go. She can’t summon the courage to tell her brother that she’s got a steady squeeze. She finally goes along with Enrico’s plan to marry her off to Lord Arturo, who has plenty of kale — though he is not young and handsome. Actually more like old and homely.
By and by, one of Enrico’s cronies is rifling the mail one day and comes across Edgardo’s love letters to Lucia. He steals the letters and gives them to Enrico, who then forges new letters that do not mention love. Enrico also plants rumors that Edgardo is philandering around in Europe. So Lucia goes ahead and signs the marriage contract with old Arturo.
When the wedding day comes — you guessed it — Edgardo suddenly returns. One day too late.
Edgardo is hot. He blows his stack and goes off on Lucia. The wedding people run him off, but the shock is too much for Lucia. She goes insane and murders her new husband, the hapless Arturo.
Then she launches into a demented delirium. This is the famous mad scene of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which ends in her dying — kind of willing herself to death, by all accounts.
Keeping the ball rolling, Edgardo wanders out to the cemetery and stabs himself to death.
Geez, Louise. Who are these people? Guests on the “The Jerry Springer Show”?
LEO checked with a modern marriage counselor, who confirmed that dysfunctional family life remains a problem in the 21st century — though she didn’t wish to have her professional name connected with a story on operatic tragedy.
“Usually, it’s the parents trying to marry the daughter off to someone wealthy, rather than the brother,” said the counselor. “But bad marriages always make for plenty of drama.”
The plot of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia de Lammermoor” wasn’t new when the Italian composer premiered the opera in 1835 in Naples. Donizetti borrowed the tragic tale from a romantic novel written in 1819 by Sir Walter Scott called “The Bride of Lammermoor.” The book is pretty much the same story, except instead of Edgardo and Arturo, the characters in the book have names like Sir Edgar of Ravenswood and Lord Arthur Bucklaw. Lucia is Lucy. And the ruins are, as ever, the ruins.
Only the names change. When a similar plot came up recently on the Springer show, it seems like the names were Brandon and Brittany, and Mullet Head.
Of course, the plot and the people are ridiculous. What “Lucia di Lammermoor” is really about is the music. It’s the singing.
The part of Lucia sings two of the most enduring songs of the operatic stage. The first is the sextet at the wedding scene, as Edgardo returns to find Lucia has betrayed him. Each of the principal characters joins in song. A century ago, the sextet was one of the first big hit 78s recorded by Victor Records — with Enrico Caruso leading the cast of stars.
Then there is Lucia’s mad scene. The insane maiden’s mind flits between the crushing reality of her denunciation by Edgardo and a happy denial, in which the pair’s undying love lives on.
Donizetti turns Lucia’s mad scene into a showcase of impossible singing, with high and rapid runs that will test the abilities of soprano Angela Gilbert, cast as the heroine in The Kentucky Opera performance. Gilbert is a native of South Africa with an extensive list of credits that include several acclaimed performances of “Lucia.”
Tenor Scott Ramsay sings Edgardo. The singers are the first recipients of financial grants from the new Campaign for Artistic Excellence, founded by Louisvillians Ian and Roberta Henderson.