Small picture of Donizetti








Donizetti's Ghosts

by Charles Jernigan

November 23, 2013


An article reflecting on the appearance of ghosts in 19th century opera noting the dearth of Italian models and thus highlighting the uniqueness of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

The French Experience
The Italian View
Lucia and the Gothic Tradition

It is not uncommon for productions of Lucia di Lammermoor to emphasize ghostly revenants.  After all, the ghost of the "fountain" is the primary subject of Lucia’s cavatina "Regnava nel silenzio" and the theme returns in the Mad Scene.  But ghosts are unusual in Italian opera of the nineteenth century; in fact, with some exceptions, they are almost unheard of.  Such was not the case with operas written by German composers - Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz (1821), the foundation work of German Romantic opera, uses supernatural occurrences and Annchen sings a romance in Act III about ghosts, but immediately laughs it off since the "ghost" in her narrative turns out to be Nero, the watchdog. Marschner’s Der Vampyr (1828), based on John Polidori’s 1819 novella The Vampire certainly is about a type of revenant - Lord Ruthven, the Vampire, who, like Kaspar in Der Freischutz, must sacrifice living beings (three virgins in 24 hours!) in order to avoid death and hell.  Emmy, a character in that work, sings the Legend of the Vampire at the start of Act II.   Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander, which owes much to both Der Freischutz and Der Vampyr, is also about a ghost doomed to wander by the devil, and Senta sings the famous ballad which tells the Dutchman’s story at the beginning of Act II, much as Emmy sings the legend of the Vampire.  Supernatural occurrences and often ghosts are common in German opera from the beginning right down through the nineteenth century.


The French Experience

As a people, the ‘rational’ French might have been more skeptical of ghosts and the supernatural than the Germans, but nonetheless there is a fairly strong tradition of ghostly revenants in French opera.  The title of Boieldieu’s La dame blanche (1825) refers to a ghost, the "White Lady," but in the end the White Lady turns out to be Anna, the heroine, who has disguised herself as the ghost-protectress of the Avenel family in an attempt to save the ancestral property.  Thus there is no ghost at all even though the legend of the White Lady makes for a splendid aria for Jenny in Act I and the ghostly summoning of the spirit in Act II is even better (Georges’ "Viens, gentille dame"). 

Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (1831) is certainly a high point (or a low point) of ghostly goings-on in French opera and in many ways it follows the pattern in the above-mentioned German "ghost" operas: there is an aria which explains the legend of the ghost (sung by Raimbaut, a Norman troubadour, near the beginning of the opera -"Jadis régnait en Normandie"); Robert is really the son of Bertram, the devil (cf. Samuel in Der Freischutz or the Vampire Master in Der Vampyr); and he will only be saved by the love of a virtuous woman (cf. Agatha in Freischutz, or Senta in Hollander).  But the most shocking scene to the opera’s early audiences, the scene that made the opera a succès  de scandale and inspired a painting by Degas, was the invocation in a ruined convent of adulterous nuns’ ghosts by Bertram ("Nonnes, qui reposez") and the subsequent ballet in which the combination of gothic horror, religion and eroticism helped assure the opera’s success in 1831 and was by no means a minor factor in the birth of grand opera.  This opera had it all: the devil, a debauched and damned hero, innocent and virtuous women (two of them) who might save the hero through their pure love, and the ghosts of debauched, fallen nuns!

Eugène Scribe, who had written the libretto of Robert with Casamir Delavigne, tried to capitalize on the succès de scandale by writing a new libretto with Casamir’s brother Germain Delavigne, which was full of gothic horrors.  After being considered and rejected by several composers including Verdi and Berlioz, the libretto finally found a home chez Charles Gounod, some 25 years after the premiere of Robert.  Gounod, looking for a sure thing after a couple of less than successful early works (Sappho and Ulysse) produced La Nonne sanglante in 1854.  This text was based on the "Bleeding Nun" episode from Matthew Lewis’ gothic shocker The Monk of even then long ago 1796. Like Robert, La Nonne sanglante concerned ghostly nuns - this time centering on a nun murdered by her lover - who turns out to be none other than the father of the hero, Rodolphe.  The living lady of the work, Agnès, plans to elope with Rodolphe by acting the role of the Bleeding Nun, a specter who appears every five years, in order to escape from the ancestral castle where she is being forced to wed Rodolphe’s older brother.  As Rodolphe waits for his fiance to escape at the appointed hour, expecting her to be dressed as the ghost, the real Bleeding Nun appears.  (To promote confusion, she is also named Agnès, but one can distinguish between Agnès the Ghost and Agnès the Beloved because Agnès the Beloved is a soprano and Agnès the Ghost is a mezzo.)  Before he realizes his mistake, Rodolphe pledges himself to the Ghost and the scene shifts to a ruined gothic castle where the wedding takes place with an assemblage of the dead as wedding guests.  Ghosts indeed!  Although the opera was initially a financial success, it was soon cancelled by François Croisnier, the new director of the Opèra, who called it "ordure" and it was not heard from again until revived in Osnabrück, Germany, in 2007-2008 (the recording of that performance was issued in 2010).  La Nonne sanglante may not be a first rate opera itself, but listening to it and following its outrageously gothic story, we can see in retrospect that it served Gounod well as a practice run for Faust, another grand opera with a devil and ghostly presences (in the Act V ballet).

We can see that these ghost operas have several similarities, including damned figures often saved by a woman’s pure love and an aria which relates the legend of the revenant.  Even as late as 1867 Verdi was constrained to end Don Carlos with a ghost - Charles V dressed as a monk, who escorts Don Carlos into his tomb: a real deus ex sepulcrum.  It is beyond the scope of this brief review of the ghosts of French and German operas to consider ballet, but of course Romantic ballet is full of ghosts and ghostly apparitions including Giselle, that archetype of the Romantic ballet.


The Italian View

South of the Alps, Donizetti was not unaware of the taste for the gothic running riot to the north, although he does not seem to have had much sympathy with it.  Maria de Rudenz, his most gothic and goriest work is in fact based on a Nonne sanglante, but curiously not one with its genesis in the ‘Bleeding Nun’ episode of Monk Lewis’ scandalous novel.  The source of Donizetti’s opera is a play entitled La Nonne sanglante by Anicet-Bourgeois and Mallian (1835) which shares with Lewis’ novel (and Scribe and Delavigne’s libretto for Gounod) only the title and a nun who drips blood.  In both play and opera, Maria, the deranged heroine, is stabbed.  Most of the characters think she has been killed and when she reappears, they believe her to be a ghost.  Cammarano even entitles Part III of the opera "Lo spettro,"  but she is no ghost; she is the wounded and bandaged Maria and she is dripping blood -a bleeding nun (she has been in a convent earlier).  At the end of the opera, she commits suicide by ripping her bandages off and bleeding to death.  (In the play she actually wanders around for a time with the dagger still in her side; fortunately Cammarano and Donizetti had the good sense to remove the dagger.)

The torturous choice of a subject for the new opera for Venice which became Maria de Rudenz is clearly spelled out in Jeremy Commons’ fine essay for the Opera Rara recording.  Commons makes it clear that Donizetti had deep misgivings about the gothic subject and was not surprised when the opera failed at its first outing in 1838.  He quotes a passage from a letter Donizetti wrote to his brother-in-law Antonio Vasselli: "The opera for Venice is making progress, but does not please me....  So that if you hear they are massacring me, say: I knew it."  [28]  Even Cammarano was skeptical and some years later when the opera was revived in Naples, he wrote a prefatory note for the libretto, in which he tries to exculpate himself for the gruesome story, writing that he tried "to temper its bizarre nature and its horrors," and most interesting, he expresses his "abhorrence for a gory and northern genre." [43]

Italians in general were not drawn to the gothic with its revenant ghosts in the same way as their "northern" brethren in spite of some exceptions.  Verdi’s Macbeth comes to mind (another Scottish subject) and one supposes that the Amletos of Italian opera (by Mercadante or Franco Faccio among others) use the ghost of Hamlet’s father, but I have not seen the libretti of those works.  And Donizetti’s own Maria Stuarda (still another Scottish subject) tells Talbot that she fears the "bloody shade of Arrigo risen from the tomb."  To suitably spooky music she asks Talbot if he too doesn’t see the "bloody corpse of young Rizzio" before she is calmed and confesses to him.  But it is a passing moment.

That ghosts and their assorted cousins, vampires, Frankenstein monsters and the like were considered to be a northern phenomenon by Italians is confirmed by Felice Romani’s wife and biographer, Emilia Branca, who tells us that Romani, as a superstitious and susceptible young man, "travelled around various European states."  In Germany he chanced upon the young Meyerbeer, at that time a student, while traveling in a postal coach. Meyerbeer spoke a little Italian and French, and the two struck up a friendship which lasted throughout Meyerbeer’s Italian period and well into his triumphal years in France.  According to Branca, both Meyerbeer and Romani possessed "romantic, phantasmagoric" imaginations and Meyerbeer "...willingly lent his ear to stories about specters, shades and deviltry."  Likewise, "...Romani too believed in unusual apparitions, and held the persuasion that the spirits of the dead fluttered around in the air of places where they once lived."

Apparently influenced by the northern clime, the two suffered nightly terrors and even climbed into bed together in a hotel where they were staying when young Beer (not yet Meyerbeer) came into Romani’s room in the middle of the night, complaining about a spirit who whispered in his ear, "Light your lamp!  Light your lamp!"  "‘It is certainly a phantom,’ said Meyerbeer, ‘who wants to see clearly while walking through the walls....’"  Branca attributes their susceptibility to "that dark countryside with its severe and sharp lines, under that gray sky which spread everywhere a melancholy, crepuscular tint, the traditions of old castles, the imposing land of feudal lords, and a dark poetry of hidden truths, of marvelous legends."  It is this northern European atmosphere, opines Branca, that "brought our two young artists to an inexplicable excitement of their fantasies and overwrought sensitivities."

However susceptible the young Romani might have been to ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, he was not inclined to appreciate Meyerbeer’s love of the gothic, which Branca attributes to Meyerbeer’s superstitious and credulous nature.  In fact, apparently neither Donizetti nor Romani thought much of Robert le Diable.  Branca quotes the former as saying, after hearing Robert at La Scala, "If this kind of music takes root here in Italy, then good-bye Italian music forever!  Good-bye, good-bye!"  As for Romani, Branca quotes at length a review that he wrote after seeing Robert in Turin in 1846.  It is amusing to contrast Donizetti’s concision to Romani’s prolixity, but the opinion is the same: Meyerbeer has sacrificed Italian melody and variety for effect.  "The composers who wish to distance themselves from the beaten path and strike the soul with things far from the ordinary," he wrote, "have recourse to all the tricks of which the most fantastic dramaturgy is capable, and they like ghosts, specters, incantations and witches’ sabbaths, ancient monasteries and deserted abbeys."   And although Romani admits that Robert as "the work of a great man," he compares the "Gallic and Teutonic" style of Robert to Italian music: "here there is the science of harmony, proportion of the parts, restraint of sounds; here the instruments do not cover the voices, and do not deafen with a perpetual din...."

In other words, Donizetti, Cammarano, Romani and other Italians were uncomfortable with the fully let out gothic fashion and found it "northern" and to some degree alien, and both Romani and Donizetti seemed to associate the musical requirements of a gothic tale like Robert le Diable with a noisy "din" which moves away from the Italian ideals of harmony and proportion.  When Donizetti and Cammarano did write a fully let-out gothic opera (Maria de Rudenz), they both felt the need to apologize for it.


Lucia and the Gothic Tradition

And yet Donizetti (and Cammarano’s) most famous opera is to some degree in the gothic tradition.  Lucia di Lammermoor, according to Anne Williams in an interesting on-line article on Matthew Lewis and Gounod’s La Nonne sanglante, " arguably the only Gothic opera firmly in the canon; it has a haunted fountain, a tragic family conflict, and a heroine driven to murder and madness."  The mad scene, says Williams [Paragraph 4], is Lucia’s "most ‘Gothic’ episode" even though it is not in  Walter Scott’s novel.    And, we might add, it has an aria which tells the legend of the ghost (like Robert and several of the other operas mentioned above) which gives the entire work a gothic cast.

As John Black and others have pointed out, Cammarano does an admirable job of condensing The Bride of Lammermoor and focussing on the romance between Lucia and Edgardo.  Gone are Lucy’s mother, Lady Eleanor Ashton, the true villainess of the novel, and her lawyer husband Lord Ashton, Lucy’s father, called the Lord Keeper.  Elevated in status is Enrico Ashton, a conflation of Lucy’s fifteen year old brother Henry and her older brother, Colonel Ashton, a soldier who is not present for most of the story, but who appears towards the end of the novel to challenge Edgar Ravenswood to a duel.

Scott posits a narrator who is telling the story (which had a real basis in the seventeenth century history of the Stair family), and the tale is given context by the historical and religious struggles in Scotland in the early eighteenth century.  (Scott moves the time frame forward a few decades and moves the locale from the western Scottish lands of the Stair family to the eastern lands of "Lammermoor," near the "German" sea.)  In the novel Lord Ashton is open to the possibility of a match between Lucy and the Master of Ravenswood (although his wife is not), whose estates he has taken through legal intrigue, because he thinks that  Ravenswood’s cavalier and episcopal party may regain political power and his own party, Presbyterian and anti-royalist, may lose.  There are also extensive scenes with peasant characters written in Scottish dialect (which tax the powers of this American reader).  Most of these characters, like Ravenswood’s put-upon servant Caleb Balderstone, are comic and provide humorous interludes in what is an otherwise gloomy but absorbing novel.  (Carafa’s Le Nozze di Lammermoor, first performed at the Théâtre-Italien in 1829, some five years before Lucia, was an opera semiseria which made extensive use of the comic characters.)  Some of these characters like the old blind seeress Aleese (Cammarano turns her into a conventional lady-in-waiting for Lucia) and her witch-like companions are part of the gothic underpinning of the novel and are not comic. 

Scott gives us several scenes which involve gothic elements, including ghosts, although he is careful to have his interior narrator interrupt the narrative to say that these folk or legendary elements have come down with the story, but may or may not be true.  The first of these "ghost" episodes is the one which makes its way most clearly into the opera -the haunted fountain where Lucia meets Edgardo in the second scene of the opera.  In the novel, it is to this fountain that Ravenswood carries Lucy after saving her and her father from an attack by a wild bull (an event alluded to by Cammarano).  In the original libretto, Cammarano practically quotes Scott directly in the stage directions describing the fountain:

..a pellucid fountain, which had been once covered in, screened, and decorated with architectural ornaments of a Gothic character.  But now the vault which had covered it being broken down and riven, and the Gothic font ruined and demolished, the spring burst forth.... (Bride of Lammermoor, Chap. V)

Parco.  Si vede la così detta fontana della Sirena, fonte altra volta coperta da un bell’edifizio ornato di tutti i fregi della gotica architettura, al presente dei rottami di quest’edifizio sol cinta. (Park.  One sees the so called fountain of the Siren, a fountain once covered by  a fine edifice adorned with the decorations of gothic architecture; at present  only the ruins remain.) (Lucia, Parte Prima, Sc. IV)

Scott’s narrator tells us that "tradition" has ascribed a legend to the fountain.  A certain Raymond Ravenswood, ancestor of the present Edgar, had seen a beautiful young woman sitting on the verge of the fountain.  They began a discourse that was oft repeated, but only on Fridays and with the caveat that they must separate when the bell from a nearby hermitage tolled vespers.  A hermit at the hermitage, learning from Ravenswood himself of the mysterious beauty and feeling that "his patron was enveloped in the toils of Satan," "...put the state and condition of [the woman] to a certain trial"  by waiting half an hour after the normal hour to toll vespers.  When the "nymph," tricked by the ruse, became aware that it was later than she could stay, she "tore herself from her lover’s arms with a shriek of despair, bid him adieu forever and plunging into the fountain, disappeared from his eyes.  The bubbles occasioned by her descent were crimsoned with blood as they arose...," causing the young Ravenswood to believe that he had killed her, and in her memory he had erected the gothic edifice over the fountain, now in ruins.  (Bride of Lammermoor, Chap. V).

Scott’s interior narrator also offers an alternative to the legend, that is that Raymond had slain a ‘plebeian’ lover in a fit of jealousy and thrown her body into the fountain, although the narrator seems to believe that a Naiad is the more likely explanation.  In any case, the fountain has always been unlucky for the Ravenswoods and it was on this spot that "Lucy Ashton first drew breath" after recovering from the bull’s attack.  In the novel, this first meeting is hardly auspicious, but as the novel progresses and the relationship between Lucy and Edgar grows, the fountain becomes central to their love.  Cammarano, who begins the opera in medias res, has Lucia’s entrance in the Park at the fountain and the lovers meet there, but not for the first time. They pledge their troth at the fatal fountain in both opera and novel, but instead of exchanging rings, the couple in the novel follows an old custom by dividing a gold coin.  Lucy will wear her half on a blue ribbon around her neck until Edgar breaks in on the wedding contract scene and demands his token back and she will pathetically search for it in her final madness.

Cammarano takes due note of the old custom in a footnote in the original libretto:

Ne’ tempi a cui rimonta questo avvenimento fu in Iscozia comune credenza, che il violatore di un giuramento fatto con certe cerimonie, soggiacesse in questa terra ad un esemplare punizione celeste, quasi contemporanea all’atto  dello spergiuro.  Perciò allora i giuramenti degli amanti, lungi dal riguardarsi  come cosa di lievo peso, avevano per lo meno l’importanza di un contratto di nozze.La più usitata di queste cerimonie era che i due amanti rompevano e si  partivano una moneta. Si è sostituito il cambio dell’anello, come più adatto alla scena.

(In the times when this story occurred there was in Scotland a common belief that anyone who violated an oath made with certain rituals, would suffer an exemplary heavenly punishment on this earth almost immediately after the act of breaking the oath.  Thus, at that time the oaths of lovers, far from being regarded as inconsequential, had at least the import of a wedding contract. In the most common of these rituals the two lovers broke and divided a coin. Here, an exchange of rings was substituted as more adapted for the stage.)

Thus Lucia’s tragedy may be expiation demanded by folkloric custom of lovers who break their oath.  The point is that Cammarano - given the necessity of telescoping a 300 page novel into an evening’s opera - is true to the novel, even to the folkloric elements and gothic aspects. 

Musically, the gothic can be said to enter the opera with the harp prelude which introduces the fountain scene.  Philip Gossett points out that the prelude, indeed the whole scene was originally in E flat major, but was transposed by Donizetti himself probably very early on, to D major.  Gossett also notes the long association of E flat major with hunting and woodland settings, and he points out that a close model would be the harp prelude and obbligato in the final act of Rossini' s Otello.  [Gossett, 348]  Perhaps the shift to D major was because it fits the mood better (although both keys are associated historically with hunting and horns).  Whatever the key, in both works the prelude sets the mood, foreshadowing the coming tragedies.  In fact in both opera and novel the haunted fountain itself is both an omen of tragedy and a foreshadowing of Lucy/Lucia’s coming madness.  (Rossini also used the distant song of a gondolier who quotes fatal lines from Canto V of Dante’s Inferno as a melancholy mood setter and a foreshadowing of the coming tragedy.)

In Lucia, the ghost serves the function of foreshadowing the tragedy, but it is also what T.S. Eliot famously called the "objective correlative": the objective manifestation of the madness which will seize Lucia and bring about her tragedy.  Camaranno seems to conflate the two options for the mysterious figure that Scott gives us in the novel, since he calls her a "Sirena," but he also has her as the victim of murder.  In the recitative leading to Lucia’s cavatina, she tells Alisa one of the legends from the novel:

That fountain, I never see it without trembling... / Ah you know: A Ravenswood, burning with jealous fury / Killed his beloved woman there; / The unfortunate one fell into the waters, / And there she remains buried..../ Her ghost appeared to me...

The aria which follows tells us how the ghostly specter appeared to Lucia by the fountain: it seemed that her lips moved and her "bloodless hand" beckoned her.  She "stood for a moment immobile, then suddenly disappeared and the water so limpid before was stained red with blood."  It is interesting that Lucy in the novel never says that she herself saw the ghost; the fountain is merely "‘...a spot connected to the legendary lore that I love so well’."  It is Camaranno who invents the story that Lucia herself has seen the ghost, although the descriptive language comes from Scott’s narrator.

Alisa sees nothing but baleful "presagi" in this tale and urges Lucia to forget the dangerous love she is pursuing, but Lucia will have none of it.  It is her Edgardo who saves her from sorrow, and the slow and pensive larghetto of "Regnava nel silenzio" morphs into the moderato ecstasy of the cabaletta.  (The Aleese of the novel, the ancient seer, will be seen as a ghost by Ravenswood, sitting on the edge of the fatal fountain shortly after her death -another omen of the tragedy to come, but this of course does not make it into the opera.)

It is well known to Donizettians that the original Lucia, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, substituted another aria altogether for "Regnava nel silenzio" the first time she sang the role after the Naples premiere, in Venice, in 1836-37.  This was "Perché non ho del vento" with its attendant cabaletta "Torna, ah, torna, O caro oggetto" from Rosmunda d’Inghilterra (1834).  It was an easy substitution since the hero of the latter opera, mentioned in the cabaletta, is named Edegardo: the soprano had only to drop an "e" to fit the aria into Lucia.  The situation is similar too - a woman anxiously waiting for her lover.  But the Rosmunda aria is less interesting than "Regnava nel silenzio" both musically and textually.  It is generic aria-ese and has nothing about a specter while the ghost story is very unusual.  Why would Tacchinardi-Persiani do it, and why did the substitution become common throughout the nineteenth century?  Why did Donizetti himself decide to substitute the Rosmunda aria for the original when he prepared the French version of Lucia for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris in 1839?

Could it be that Tacchinardi-Persiani (and/or Italian audiences) did not like ghost stories much?  Or that Donizetti decided that the French like the Italians prefer their operas without romantic specters?  We know that educated, urbane Italians like Donizetti and Romani did not like Robert le diable much and that often the ghosts of French opera tended to be jocular (La dame blanche).  The Romantic obsession with gothicism was perhaps better left to the "northerners" - the English and the Germans.  (I realize that our era cannot be compared to the 1830’s, but in the only production of Robert le diable that I have ever seen, in Paris in 1985, the ballet of dead nuns was treated satirically as if it were being danced by the Ballet Trocadero.  In the late twentieth century at least it was impossible for the French to take naughty nuns rising from the grave seriously. I understand that the recent Covent Garden production did not take the Gothic elements seriously either)  

In any case, the ghost in Lucia makes its forceful reappearance in the Mad Scene, where it is the perfect symbol of Lucia’s psychological state.  In fact, in a way Lucia has become the ghost of the fountain.  The Chorus’ lines at her appearance cue us: "O giusto cielo!  Par dalla tomba uscita!"  Even more explicit are the stage directions in Cammarano’s libretto:

Lucia e` in succinta e bianca vesta; ha le chiome scarmigliate, ed il suo volto, coperto da uno squallore di morte, la rende simile ad uno spettro, anziche` ad una creature vivente, il di lei sguardo impietrito, i moti convulsi, e fino un sorriso malaugurato manifesta, non solo una spaventevole demenza, ma ben anco i segni di una vita che gia` volge al suo termine. (Lucia is dressed in scanty, white clothing; she has disheveled hair, and her face, covered with the pallor of death, make her appear like a specter rather than a living creature.  Her stony glance, convulsed movements and even her inappropriate smile manifest not only a fearful dementia, but also the signs of a life rushing towards its end.) 

The first part of the aria ("Il dolce suono") is filled with textual and musical reminiscences from the first part of the opera including the ghost and the fountain as Lucia vacillates between terror and joy:

Vacilla il pie`!...  Presso la fonte, meco / T’assidi alquanto...  Ahime!... sorge il tremendo /  Fantasma e ne separa!

Lucia’s terror subsides in her belief that she is at the altar with Edgardo:

 Qui ricovriamci, Edgardo, a pie` dell’ara... / Sparsa e` di rose!

The ‘trembling foot’ near the terrible fountain finds ‘shelter’ at the ‘foot’ of the altar,  just as the frightening ghost story of "Regnava nel silenzio" will turn into the joy of "Quando rapita nell’estasi" in the scene in the "Parco."  Cammarano has made the former scene parallel to the tragic mad scene, and Lucia’s imagined joy will express itself in the second movement of the aria as she imagines her wedding with Edgardo, the great "Ardon gl’incensi."

Cammarano’s literary parallelism is matched by his association of the ghost of the fountain with Lucia herself.  It is interesting to note that in the French Lucie de Lammermoor the ghost survives in the Mad Scene although it has disappeared from the Fountain Scene through the substitution of "Perché non ho il vento."  Thus the mention of the ghost ("O  ciel! Là-bas...là...quel spectre se traine! / il nous separe!") has no context in the French version.  But however fine Cammerano’s literary skill is (and it is very good), we would not be examining Lucia if it were not for Donizetti’s music, and one of the miraculous things that Donizetti does is to give us the perfect musical equivalent of both the ghost and Lucia’s madness.

Donizetti had, of course, intended that the Mad Scene be ‘accompanied’ by the glass harmonica (what he called the ‘armonica’), but research for the critical edition of Lucia by Roger Parker and Gabriele Dotto shows that he had to substitute a flute before the first performance because the glass harmonica player, one Domenico Pezzi, was in a legal dispute with the theatre and thus there was no instrumentalist available to play the armonica.  As Gossett points out, performances of Lucia since 1970 have often used the original instrumentation, and I dare say that anyone who has heard a performance with the armonica will attest to that instrument’s superiority to the flute in the circumstances.  "The harmonica appears during the introductory recitative (to introduce ‘Il dolce suono’), returns extensively in the Larghetto (‘Ardon gl’incensi’), where it accompanies Lucia’s notated fioritura, and then is found again in the cabaletta..." [Gossett, 435].

It is not that the flute is a bad obbligato instrument for the Mad Scene; we have all heard  it performed most successfully.  It obviously blends well with the soprano voice, particularly in passages of fioritura.  But it is also a very common obbligato instrument in bel canto opera, accompanying all kinds of vocal passages, from the joyous to the tragic.  The glass harmonica is another species altogether.  Annalisa Bini and Jeremy Commons called the sound "supernatural"; Phillip Gossett calls it "otherworldly" [434].  Heather Hadlock, linking the sound to "young women’s vulnerability to nervous derangement, taboo eroticism, and alienation from healthy, normal society" calls it "a genuine evocation of the uncanny."  [534]  Mary Ann Smart, as Gossett points out, speaks of "‘the far more uncanny glass harmonica that Donizetti originally wanted" [quoted in Gossett, 434].

Interestingly, the words that these commentators use to describe the glass harmonica’s sound are even more applicable to the supernatural realm of ghosts than to the madness which is the immediate issue.  In fact, what Donizetti did was to find an instrument which links madness and the spectral, legend and reality, Fountain Scene and Mad Scene.  In the autograph which contains the music for armonica, Donizetti has written the indication "ondeggiante," ‘undulating’, a term which applies admirably to spectral manifestations.  (Lucia did not contain Donizetti’s first use of the glass harmonica.  In 1829, he had designated the instrument to accompany Amelia’s {Amy Robsart’s} nostalgic aria "Par che mi dica ancora" in Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, which had premiered at the same Teatro San Carlo that premiered Lucia.  But that opera’s aria was less suited to the armonica’s "otherworldly" nature than is Lucia’s Mad Scene.  It would seem that experience led the composer to appreciate the special nature of the instrument.)

The glass harmonica, "ondeggiante," mysterious, is an admirable musical correlative for both the ghostly apparition that Lucia has experienced and the madness which is its physical manifestation.  The music, especially with the armonica, unites ghost-death-madness in a way which is indeed beyond language’s more literal ability to convey.  It is interesting that Donizetti never returned to the glass harmonica version once he had substituted the flute.  When the substitution of "Perchè non ho del vento," an aria without a ghost, became common, perhaps the raison d’être for the armonica disappeared.

Thus Donizetti has taken the ghostly element of Cammarano’s libretto, an element which is even stronger than in the Scott novel since Lucia, unlike Lucy, has actually witnessed the ghost, which beckoned to her, and made it the objective AND musical correlative of Lucia’s madness.  It both foreshadows the madness and objectifies it in a manifest presence which is in both the words and the music.  This is quite different from the ghosts in operas like Robert le diable and La Nonne sanglante, where the use of ghosts is for shock value alone or the use of ghosts in La dame blanche or Der Freischutz, where the  "ghosts" are not real.  Perhaps only Wagner’s Dutchman comes close to the sophistication of Lucia since he can be seen as a manifestation of Senta’s imagination.  Even there, however, there is nothing quite like Lucia’s Mad Scene.  This explains too how Donizetti (and Cammarano and Romani and many other Italian critics) found the gothic ghost story a "northern" and uncongenial genre while at the same time using it so successfully because it becomes a  psychological symbol, and it explains why Lucia is a unique, or almost unique, Italian opera in its use of ghosts, and why in Anne Williams’ words, it remains "the only gothic opera in the canon."  Directors are fully justified in putting mimed spectral apparitions into their productions of Lucia, but on the other hand they are not really necessary.  The ghosts are there already, beneath the surface of the text and hidden in the music.

(For any interested in going further into this topic, see Sarah Chesney's  thesis on "Gothic Imaginations in Primo Ottocento Opera".)



Black, John.The Italian Romantic Libretto: A Study of Salvadore Cammarano. Edinburgh: Univ. of Edinburgh Press, 1984.

Branca, Emilia. Felice Romani ed i più riputati maestri di musica del suo tempo, esp. Chapter XXI.,1882.

Cammarano, S. and Donizetti, G., Lucia di Lammermoor. Napoli: T Cottrau, 1875.

Commons, Jeremy. "Maria de Rudenz", Opera Rara Recording Booklet. London: ORC 16, 1997.

Gossett, Philip. Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2006.

Hadlock, Heather."Sonorous Bodies: Women and the Glass Harmonica".  Journal of the American Musicological Society. 53 (2000), 507-42.

Parker, Roger. "Lucia di Lammermoor Begins Afresh." Program Essay for the ENO production, 2008.

Scott, Walter. The Bride of Lammermoor. London: Everyman’s Library, 1974.

Williams, Anne. "Lewis/Gounod’s Bleeding Nonne: An Introduction and Translation of the Scribe / Delavigne Libretto". Opera and Romanticism. On line essay accessed Dec. 2010.

Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by Charles Jernigan.