In the opera, young Lucia is caught in the middle of a feud between her family and her true love Edgardo. Her brother forces her to forsake her love and marry for money. On their wedding night Lucia kills her bridegroom, plunges headlong into madness, then dies. When Edgardo learns of Lucia’s demise, he kills himself.
The opera is particularly famous for its ‘mad scene’ in which Lucia—covered with blood—sings what is essentially a duet with the glass armonica. (The armonica only appears in the mad scene, nowhere else in the opera.)
Although Donizetti originally wrote the part for glass armonica, the available player proved too difficult to work with, so he rewrote the part for flutes and that’s how it was originally premiered. It is still frequently done with flutes as a glass armonica player is harder to come by than the flautists who are already there in the orchestra.
First, I must say what a pleasure it was to work with all the staff at COC, especially the principals. They were all consummate professionals who did a wonderful job, and very personable to work with:
There have been several reviews of the opera. Those that mentione the glass armonica include:
Stanley Fefferman, Bachtrack
David Alden’s edgy Lucia di Lammermoor triumphs in Toronto
19th April 2013
The COC orchestra, including glass armonica and harp soloists, sounded so constantly well in this hall, they functioned like another character. If there is such a thing as an opera that is a real deal, this is it.
Arthur Kaptainis, National Post
Opera Review: Lucia di Lammermoor not yet worth the price of admission
21st April 2013
It should be noted that the Mad Scene included the glass harmonica originally called for by Donizetti but seldom heard in practice.
Glenn Sumi, Now Magazine
Lucia Di Lammermoor: Uneven production adds incest and horror movie tropes to romantic opera
25th April 2013
Conductor Stephen Lord and the Canadian Opera Company orchestra bring out all the dark hues in the score, with the addition of the glass armonica – an instrument once thought to induce hysteria – adding some spine-tingling effects in the infamous mad scene.
Wayne Leung, Mooney On Theatre
Review: Lucia di Lammermoor (Canadian Opera Company)
18th April 2013
Another curious but fascinating musical highlight of the opera is the inclusion of the glass armonica. The rare instrument was originally part of Donizetti’s score but the composer later re-arranged the part for the flute instead. Used during Lucia’s mad scene, the instrument has an ethereal almost electronic sound that adds to the creepy atmosphere of the scene.
Colin Eatock, Writer & Composer
The COC’s Lucia di Lammermoor
22nd April 2013
Canadian Opera Company’s current production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre has plenty going for it: a fine cast, effective pacing from conductor Stephen Lord, and intriguing stage direction from David Alden.
But let’s start with the glass harmonica.
In case you don’t know the instrument, it consists of a set of partially submerged glass bowls rotating on an axle that produce sustained tones when touched by the fingers. Developed by Benjamin Franklin, the glass harmonica was to the 18th and 19th centuries what the theremin was to the 20th: a weirdly ethereal novelty instrument. Its decline from fashion was hastened by the rumour that its sound induced insanity.
Donizetti intended to include it in the “mad scene” from Lucia. But for reasons not entirely clear, it wasn’t used at the opera’s premiere in 1835, and the composer substituted a flute. However, the glass harmonica seems to be making a comeback (the Metropolitan Opera used one in Lucia in 2009), and this is a good thing.
Christopher Hoilek, Stage Door
Lucia di Lammermoor
18th April 2013
The Canadian Opera Company’s current production of Lucia di Lammermoor is a feast of beautiful singing and effective acting with no weak link in the cast.
Her mad scene is particularly notable because Alden has used Donizetti’s original version of it where Lucia is accompanied by glass harmonica, not by the flute. The mad Lucia sings of “un’armonia celeste” and the glass harmonica lends an eerie beauty to the entire scene.
And to have a glass harmonica in the mad scene gives it an aura that literally seems out of this world.
Sarah Chan, The Scene in Toronto
For the Love of Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor
23rd April 2013
The story takes place in Victorian Scotland, the bleak and weathered white walls resembled a mental institution and the lighting cast beautiful dark shadows that carried the heavy tone of the show. The stage pieces swung and moved in a seamless way, cleverly using the back of the wall pieces to further the starkness and bleak emotional tone. Details were strong all the way down to the glass harmonica in the mad scene, which were previously used in sanatoriums in the 19th century to induce hysteria.
Opera Going Toronto
Lucia di Lammermoor Review
Conductor Stephen Lord leads the always glorious COC orchestra, tracing Donizetti’s long gorgeous lines of legato with grace and refinement. Tempi are consistently respectful. Harmonies are exquisite. The use of glass harmonica, an eerie nineteenth century Victorian parlour instrument, to underpin Lucia’s mad scene, comes as a welcome surprise.
The Canadian Opera Company did their own blog about me, the glass armonica & Lucia (click here).
Their blog included a rather nice video about me and the armonica (click for video or view in this player):