• I am only Unreasonably Persistent •
Friday night the Virginia Opera presented Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and it was just fantastic! My best friend, Dr. Jessica Spafford and I, drove down to Richmond to take in this performance. Together we performed the mad scene at one of her doctoral recitals, and it is crazy fun for the flute! I've performed quite a few flute and soprano duets with Dr. Spafford and typically, we are dueling birds, or she is singing about birds and I"m the bird. Typical flute stuff. With the Lucia mad scene though, the flute represents MADNESS! Immediately prior to this scene, Lucia has gone insane over being forced to marry for the sake of her family instead of marrying Edgardo; her true love. He has also angrily renounced her for signing the marriage contract despite her basically being forced into it. In Lucia's dissociative episode, she has stabbed her new husband to death. She then wanders down to the marriage celebration covered in blood, and sings about how excited she is to be marrying Edgardo. She is no longer in reality.
As the mad scene begins, the flute suggests Lucia's mental state with a mournful yet hauntingly beautiful melody. Donizetti originally wrote this scene for a glass armonica, which has a very eerie type of sound. See the video below!
The day of the premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor, something happened that prevented the glass armonica player from being in attendance, so Donizetti gave that part to the flute. Our job as flutists is to attempt to be as eerie and haunting as the glass armonica! I think its important to remember that in this scene, the flute is actually playing a character! Its not just accompaniment for the singer, it is part of Lucia's character grappling with her life that has spun out of control. Additionally, the "love theme" from the first act of the opera returns in this scene but is now distorted and strange. It makes me think of being in a house of mirrors where everything you see is now bent or stretched in some strange way.
Towards the end of the mad scene, Lucia and the solo flute engaged in a wonderful cadenza "battle," which is one of the most fun things to do when playing with a vocalist! These cadenzas can be different depending on who is singing, and in what key they are singing. When I performed this, Dr. Spafford sang the scene in F major, which is the original key of the piece. Typically, this scene is now sung in E-flat. A few famous sopranos didn't have the high F in their wheel-house, so the entire scene is just lowered a whole step to accommodate. This was an issue for Dr. Spafford and I in our performance because there was no solo part written for me in her chosen key! So I had to create my own part from the score and then move everything up a step.
(If you get the chance to perform this work with soprano and piano, contact me and I may be able to help you with a part in whatever key you need!)
Working through the cadenza with soprano is a great challenge but also highly rewarding! There were moments in rehearsal where Dr. Spafford and I were experiencing differences tones on high notes so strong that we could feel them in our faces! It was crazy!
This opera is just such a fantastic opportunity for flute and soprano to play characters other than birds! If you ever get the chance to play it, you definitely should! Also, take a listen to the video below to hear Diana Damrau sing a modern staging of the scene with a glass armonica. Its gorgeous, fascinating, creepy, and wonderful!