A Romantic Sensation: 'Lucia di Lammermoor'

Set in Scotland, the opera is the story of Lucia, a woman who murders her new husband after being coerced into marrying him by her brother, Enrico. Enrico has taken over Ravenswood castle, which had belonged to Edgardo, Enrico's mortal enemy. Edgardo is also Lucia's lover, and the two have been meeting in secret, in a remote part of the castle grounds.

As ACT ONE begins, Enrico's men are busy combing the area for a reported intruder. There's speculation that Edgardo may have been hanging around. When Enrico hears rumors that Edgardo has been seen with his sister, he says he'd rather see Lucia struck by lightning than find her in the arms of his enemy.

In the next scene we meet Lucia. She's at the ruins of an old fountain, the secret place where she and Edgardo have been meeting. Lucia has been having visions. She's seen the ghost of a woman who died at the well, beckoning to her.

When Edgardo arrives, he tells Lucia he'll be leaving the country the next morning. The two pledge their love in a sensuous duet, with the voices seeming to wind around each other. They exchange rings, then Edgardo leaves as the act ends.

ACT TWO takes place at Lammermoor Castle. Enrico remains determined to see that Lucia and Edgardo will never be together, and it turns out he has purely practical reasons to keep the two apart. Enrico's family is in financial trouble, and he hopes to solve the problem by marrying Lucia off, to a wealthy nobleman named Arturo.

The act begins as Enrico is conferring with his friend Normanno. Enrico is afraid that Lucia will refuse to marry Arturo. So Normanno has concocted a phony letter -- supposedly from Edgardo to Lucia, saying that Edgardo has found a new lover.

When Lucia appears, Enrico shows her the letter, saying she now has no reason to resist the marriage to Arturo. Lucia is shocked by the letter's contents, yet says she'd rather die than marry anyone other than Edgardo. But Enrico weakens her defenses by saying the family is in such dire straits that he may be executed if she continues to resist the wedding.

In the next scene, that wedding is about to take place, and guests are arriving. Arturo is worried about Edgardo, and his rumored relationship with Lucia. Enrico is struggling to reassure him when Lucia enters, and reluctantly signs the marriage contract -- which to her feels more like a death warrant.

A commotion is heard when Edgardo unexpectedly turns up. The emotional confrontation builds into the opera's famous sextet, in which all the main characters express their conflicting emotions.

Arturo and Enrico draw their swords and order Edgardo to leave. He begins to resist, saying that he and Lucia have exchanged rings, and that she is rightfully his bride. But then they show him the marriage contract -- with Lucia's signature. Not knowing that she was coerced into signing it, Edgardo curses Lucia, and throws the ring she gave him to the ground. At that, Enrico demands revenge, saying Edgardo will pay for his curse.

ACT THREE opens with a thunderstorm. Edgardo has left Lammermoor Castle and is holed up nearby in a deserted tower, brooding. Now, he hears someone approach. It's Enrico, who has come to challenge Edgardo to a duel in the graveyard the following morning.

Back at the castle, the wedding ceremony has concluded, and the party is in full swing. But everyone freezes when the chaplain Raimondo appears, and they see the look on his face. He reports that while checking up on the newlyweds in their chamber, he found Lucia, bloody dagger in hand, standing over the body of her new husband -- and clearly out of her mind.

Lucia herself then appears, in a bloodstained nightgown, and begins her big mad scene -- a 15-minute rollercoaster ride of incredibly difficult music -- a challenge for even the best sopranos.

In her delirium, Lucia hallucinates. She imagines herself reunited with Edgardo, with the two about to be married. But she also flashes back to her dream from Act One, about a dead woman at the fountain trying to separate them. The wedding guests look on in horror, and Lucia finally faints. Enrico returns to find his sister crazed and Arturo murdered.

The final scene takes place the next day. Edgardo is waiting in the cemetery, ready for his duel with Enrico. He has also given up hope. He knows he can't live without Lucia, and plans to let Enrico kill him. People from Lammermoor Castle then approach. They tell Edgardo that Lucia has lost her senses and is on her deathbed, calling out his name. He's determined to see her one last time, but bells are heard and Raimondo appears, saying it's too late -- Lucia has died. Edgardo prays that he'll meet her in heaven. Then he pulls out his dagger, and stabs himself to death as the opera ends.