Donizetti’s tragedy Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the best-known bel canto operas. The 21st most performed in the world (per Operabase), Lucia is a staple of the repertoire, with its star-crossed-lovers storyline, a stunning sextet, and one of opera’s most famous “mad scenes.” AVA's most recent production of the Donizetti opera was in 2009. Future Tucker and Sills award winner Angela Meade sang the title role opposite Tucker and Sills award winner Michael Fabiano’s Edgardo with Taylor Stayton singing the role of the unfortunate Arturo Bucklaw. Mr. Fabiano reprised his Edgardo for Opera National de Paris in 2013 and famously performed on seven hours’ notice as a last-minute fill in at the Metropolitan Opera in 2015. Mr. Stayton - last seen in Philadelphia as Count Almaviva in Opera Philadelphia’s Il barbiere di Siviglia - reprised his Arturo at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden last season.
Despite all this, many are still unfamiliar with Lucia, yet they will notice that its music strikes familiar notes, thanks to the many occasions on which pop culture has referenced it. From the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges to the ripped-from-the-headlines drama of Law and Order, Lucia di Lammermoor is everywhere-even in outer space!
Perhaps the most recognizable bars of Lucia are “Chi mi frena in tal momento,” the beautiful sextet that fills the scene in which Edgardo discovers his beloved Lucia is marrying another.
In stark contrast to the lyrics of grief, guilt, and worry, the sextet sounds surprisingly light-hearted, which is what made it a recurring bit of orchestration in Warner Brothers cartoons, like the Bugs Bunny classic Long-Haired Hare, where Bugs (as "Leopold" Stokowski) and an opera singer battle it out, and the Jazz Singer homage I Love to Singa.
Disney also had the sextet play an integral part in one of their shorts: 1946’s adorable The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. The cartoon’s song-happy whale impresses his audiences by performing three of the Sextet’s parts—all at once.
Use of the Lucia sextet wasn’t restricted to cartoons. The Three Stooges incorporated it a number of times, first in the 1945 short Micro-Phonies and again in 1948’s Squareheads of the Round Table. In Squareheads, the Stooges are a trio of medieval troubadours, serenading the lovely Elaine from beneath her window, adapting the libretto for their own purposes. “Oh Elaine, Elaine come out, babe, take a look who's standing here, right here!”
Though many movies and shows have included Lucia’s sextet, the most remembered references to the opera are those that play on its bloodthirsty themes. In the original 1932 version of Scarface, the titular mobster whistles the “Chi mi frena” aria prior to killing his enemies. Scarface’s unsettling violent bloodshed and carefree whistling actually opens the movie:
We can’t forget Lucia’s compelling mad scene, in which Lucia sings “Il dolce suono” after killing her new husband. TV show Law and Order: Criminal Intent provided a particularly fitting setting for the famed aria in a 2006 opera-themed episode. After a diva performing the role of Lucia murders her violinist daughter between acts, she returns to the stage—in Lucia’s iconic blood-stained dress—for the mad scene:
These are just a few of many examples because you never know where Donizetti will pop up. It could be in a Bruce Willis film or in the nutty world of Tim Burton. Or it could be at AVA, where Donzetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor will open February 25th. Get your tickets by calling 215-735-1685 or going to www.avaopera.org.
Gabriella Rose Balsam is a senior advertising major at Temple University, and an intern in AVA's Marketing Department.