Bride of Lammermoor, Henry Gillard Glindoni, 1885
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"All, however, agreed that the spot was fatal to the Ravenswood family; and that to drink of the waters of the well, or even approach its brink, was as ominous to a descendant of that house as for a Grahame to wear green, a Bruce to kill a spider, or a St. Clair to cross the Ord on a Monday."
~ The Bride of Lammermoor, Walter Scott, 1819
The tragic opera, Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, based on Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor, concerns the emotionally fragile Lucy Ashton (Lucia) who is caught in a feud between her own family and that of the Ravenswoods. The story is set in the Lammermuir Hills of Scotland in the 17th century allegedly based on a real incident. First presented in 1835, this namesake opera remains a staple of the operatic repertoire and is much known its famous "mad scene" and Lucia's aria "Spargi d'amaro pianto."
Lucy of Lammermoor
A number of operas have been set in Scotland, or based around Scottish themes.
The works of Walter Scott proved popular with nineteenth-century composers. One of the most well known of these is Donizetti's1835 Lucia di Lammermoor loosely based on Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor which has remained a staple of operatic repertoires to this day.
The Bride of Lammermoor is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1819. The novel is set in the Lammermuir Hills of south-east Scotland, and tells of a tragic love affair between young Lucy Ashton and her family's enemy Edgar Ravenswood. Scott indicated the plot was based on an actual incident in the history of the Dalrymple and Rutherford families in 1669.
In the novel, the story recounts the tragic love of Lucy Ashton and Edgar, Master of Ravenswood. Edgar's father was stripped of his title for supporting the deposed King James VII. Lucy's ambitious father, Sir William Ashton, then bought the Ravenswood estate. Edgar hates Sir William for this usurpation of his family's heritage, but on meeting Lucy, falls in love with her, and renounces his plans for vengeance.
Sir William's haughty and manipulative wife, Lady Ashton, is the villainess of the story. She is determined to end the initial happy engagement of Edgar and Lucy, and force Lucy into a politically advantageous arranged marriage. Lady Ashton intercepts Edgar's letters to Lucy and persuades Lucy that Edgar has forgotten her. Edgar leaves Scotland for France, to continue his political activities. While he is away, Lady Ashton continues her campaign. She gets Captain Westenho, a wandering soldier of fortune, to tell everyone that Edgar is about to get married in France. She even recruits "wise woman" Ailsie Gourlay (a witch in all but name) to show Lucy omens and tokens of Edgar's unfaithfulness. Lucy still clings to her troth, asking for word from Edgar that he has broken off with her; she writes to him. Lady Ashton suppresses Lucy's letter, and brings the Reverend Bide-the-bent to apply religious persuasion to Lucy. However, Bide-the-bent instead helps Lucy send a new letter, but there is no answer.
Lady Ashton finally bullies Lucy into marrying Francis, Laird of Bucklaw. But on the day before the wedding, Edgar returns. Seeing that Lucy has signed the betrothal papers with Bucklaw, he repudiates Lucy, who can barely speak. The wedding takes place the next day, followed by a celebration at Ravenswood. While the guests are dancing, Lucy stabs Bucklaw in the bridal chamber, severely wounding him. She descends quickly into insanity and dies. Bucklaw recovers, but refuses to say what had happened. Edgar reappears at Lucy's funeral. Lucy's older brother, blaming him for her death, insists that they meet in a duel. Edgar, in despair, reluctantly agrees. But on the way to the meeting, Edgar falls into quicksand and dies.
While the libretto retains much of Scott's basic intrigue, it also contains very substantial changes in terms of characters and events. In Scott's novel, it is her mother, Lady Ashton, not Enrico, who is the villain and evil perpetrator of the whole intrigue. Also, Bucklaw was only wounded by Lucy after their unfortunate wedding, and he later recovered, went abroad, and survived them all. In the opera, Lucia's descent into insanity is more speedy and dramatic and very spectacular, while, in the book, it is more mysterious and ambiguous. Also, in the novel, Edgar and Lucy's last talk and farewell (supervised by her mother) is far less melodramatic and more calm, though the final effect is equally devastating for both of them. At the end of the novel, Edgar disappears (his body never found) and is presumably killed in some sort of an accident on his way to have his duel with Lucy's older brother; therefore, he does not commit a spectacular, operatic style suicide with a stiletto on learning of Lucy's death.
Interestingly, this story revived the Anglo-Saxon name,"Edgar" which had fallen out of use by the later medieval period.
For more on this most famous of mad scenes in opera for a coloratura soprano, accompanied by the eerie sounds of the glass harmonica, click below.