Ann-Kathrin Niemczyk and Seungwoo Simon Yang are participants of the Young Singers Project.
‘I was stirred by the sweet sound of his voice!’
The suffering lover and the loving sufferer, the fragile melancholic with the compulsion to escape from the trauma of reality into a world of dreams, to surrender to the illusions of ‘madness’: this female type shaped the history of bel canto, the Romantic Italian opera in the first half of the 19th century. No other work embodies this male fantasy in such exemplary fashion, so memorably, and with such musical brilliance as Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, first performed in Naples in 1835. In a radically concentrated dramatic version of Sir Walter Scott’s bleak historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), the librettist Salvadore Cammarano shows Lucia as the innocent victim of a family feud and dynastic politics, who not until the nadir of her humiliation is able to bring herself to perform a belated, mistaken act of self-defence that inevitably leads to her own destruction.
Donizetti’s music exalts Lucia into a tragic figure of suffering purity, then at the climax of the action, in the famous ‘mad scene’, ratchets up the temperature curve of her virtuoso furor to unimagined heights — accompanied in the original score by the otherworldly, impalpable sounds of a glass harmonica. However, Lucia di Lammermoor was at first regarded also as an opera for the tenor, to whom after all the finale belongs, when standing among the tombs of his ancestors he learns of his beloved’s fate and follows her to the grave. Having long been dominated by rather lightweight colaratura sopranos who used the role to showcase vocal acrobatics rather than expression, since the 20th century a range of very different singers has set new standards in the fusion of vocal and dramatic ability — often provoking ‘mad scenes’ among their appreciative audiences.
Translation: Sophie Kidd