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The Sunday Opera: Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with a Dream Cast Headed by Joan Sutherland

It’s a win-win scenario on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/9 3:00 p.m.) as we feature a much-loved opera and a recording of a stellar, dream cast in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” 

“Lucia” premiered in 1835 when Donizetti was at the height of his career and was the last of the three Italian opera composers who were considered “geniuses” since Rossini had retired from writing operas and Bellini died just before its premiere. It was loosely, very loosely, based on Sir Walter Scott’s Novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor” and centers on the plight of Lucy (Lucia) Ashton who loves a man from the wrong family. This also came at a time when Scotland was in the minds of many Europeans who loved a romanticized idea of the country because of its feuds and tribal wars as well as the mythology and folklore associated with it. 

“Lucia” is another version of the star-crossed lovers found in “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Lucia is in love with Edgardo, but he is a Ravenswood, and they are supposed to be sworn enemies. As a bit of a back story that I don’t believe is in the opera, Lucia’s family was banished from England for backing the deposed Edward VII, and he settled in Scotland. Once there, he took over the ancestral home of the Ravenswoods, pretty much eliminating their family history.

Lucia’s brother, Enrico, is now the Lord of Lammermoor, and he has decided that Lucia will marry another Lord, Arturo, not knowing that Lucia and Edgardo have promised themselves to each other. With the help of a Calvinist chaplain named Raimondo, Enrico poisons Lucia and Edgard’s relationship, but the ending he hopes for doesn’t occur. Lucia goes mad, kills Arturo, and then dies. Upon hearing this, Edgard kills himself hoping that he will see Lucia once more in heaven. 

The recording to which we’ll be listening comes from 1971 and features one of the two sopranos who were lauded for their interpretations of the title character, Joan Sutherland. Joining Sutherland, we have Luciano Pavarotti as Edgardo, Sherill Milnes is Edgardo, Ryland Davies is Arturo, Nicolai Ghiaurov is Raimondo, Huguette Tourangeau is Lucia’s maid Alisa, and rounding out the cast we have Pier Francesco Poli as Normanno, one of Enrico’s retainers. 

The recording is conducted by Richard Bonynge who is leading the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. 

We thought it would be interesting to look at more music that was inspired by Scotland by non-Scottish composers to fill our time together after the opera. 

We’ll begin with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. Known as the “Scottish,” it came about after Mendelssohn was totally enamored of Scotland during a walking-tour he took in 1829 that began at the ruins of Holyrood Chapel. Andre Litton conducts the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra for this much-loved work. 

The second work is by Max Bruch. His Scottish Fantasy in E-flat major is a four-movement work based on Scottish folk melodies which you may recognize. This work that premiered in 1881 will be played for us here by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky and featuring violinist Maxim Fodotov.

We’ll end our time together with more dances as we listen to two of the “Four Scottish Dances,” Op. 59 of Sir Malcolm Arnold. The sprightly Pesante and Con brio (movements 1 & 4) performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny should get your toes a-tappin’. 

Join us for a trip to Scotland through the lens of composers from Italy, Germany, and England this week without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair.

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