Thursday, August 9, 2012

Donizetti’s Divine Madness

As there are many kinds of love, so it is with madness. The almost hour long hallucination and final collapse of Tristan takes this idea to a certain extremity leaving Isolde alone at the end to sing her Liebestod. In England in the twentieth century the fisherman Peter Grimes grows demented by very dramatic degrees. In act one his possible crimes are put off as accidents. By act two and their near repetition the community puts him on warning. Near the end his storm tossed passions are mirrored in the tumultuous sea climax, his off stage disappearance and the return to the natural rhythms of life and nature. But Gaetano Donizetti is another matter altogether, and his Lucia of Lammermoor is something of a test case in the exquisite psychopathology of nineteenth century opera. Donizetti has her enter an impossible situation over which she has no control. The music and scenes build with delicacy and quiet deliberation. Like Bellini the stranger and more unhinged she becomes, the more beautiful the music. It is a luminous, almost divinely inspired delirium. Its’ famous conclusion is not simply a mad scene, it is known as THE mad scene and with good reason.
Taken from the popular novels of Sir Walter Scott, Lucia di Lammermoor begins in the quiet countryside. Here is political scheming, family enmity and most critically a world ruled by men in which a woman who is at once the complete focus of their desires and obsessions, who is powerless to control her fate. She is mistakenly judged as duplicitous by her lover Edgardo; faint hearted and indecisive by her family’s choice, Arturo and impractical and hopelessly wrong headed by her predatory brother Enrico. Her response is mounting anxiety that the music portrays in a glorious and progressive fragmentation. She vocally and literally “falls apart”. Overwhelmed, this most gentle of women, resorts to madness, murder and finally suicide. Her final disintegration when it is reached - is a swirling and acrobatic high wire act for the voice; with flute obbligato - she literally and vocally drifts away from us in one of the classic farewells in all of opera:   
Ardon gl’incensi ,

Splendon le sacre faci,

Splendon intorno

O joy that I feel and cannot express!

The incense burns,

The holy candles shine,

The shine all around
As the world grows darker, her madness grows more lucid and she sees it as an aspect of the divine. The music captures this mood perfectly. There are many notable arias, ensembles and most famously the unforgettable sextet, Chi mi frena in tal momento?  Who holds me back at such a moment ?

courtesy of Wikipedia
We hold you’ll join us and experience some of the infectious, inspired and divine madness of Donizetti in Lucia di Lammermoor on this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. The cast includes Maria Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi ; that’s here at noon, on KPAC and KTXI. 

by Ron Moore 

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