In the final act of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is forced to marry Arturo, murders him, and promptly goes insane. In the modern tradition, as exemplified by Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas (above), the mad Lucia sings a cadenza accompanied by a flute, in which the instrument takes on the mantle of a ghostly Doppelgänger. Donizetti’s original written cadenza, however, is little more than a short ornament to be sung in one breath on the dominant chord.
The first Lucia, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, probably improvised her own version in performance using the skeletal guide provided by the composer, and developed a cadenza to be sung in two breaths instead of one.
At some point during the second half of the 19th century a new way of executing this cadenza appeared: with obbligato flute. This practice must have drawn upon the composer’s use of an obbligato flute that faithfully follows the soprano in thirds and sixths during the moments leading up to the cadenza. Donizetti had originally indicated the eerie sound of the glass harmonica here, but he had to recast the line for flute following a dispute between the theater and the intended glass harmonica player.
The earliest surviving Lucia/flute cadenza has been attributed to Mathilde Marchesi, who composed a version for her protégé Nellie Melba; when Melba performed Lucia for the first time at the Paris Opéra in 1889 the flutist in the orchestra was Paul Taffanel, who may have assisted in the cadenza’s composition. However, there were at least three singers who executed their own voice/flute cadenzas earlier: Christina Nilsson, Ilma de Murska, and Emma Albani; Nilsson’s cadenza was composed by Luigi Arditi.
The flute-accompanied cadenza marked an important shift in the performance practice of the Lucia role. Being a duet, it could no longer serve as a spontaneous display of the soprano’s vocal virtuosity—it became a preconceived and well-rehearsed collaboration in a more complex form.
This according to “Manacled freedom: Nineteenth-century vocal improvisation and the flute-accompanied cadenza in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor” by Naomi Matsumoto, an essay included in Beyond notes: Improvisation in Western music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Turnhout: Brepols 2011, 295–316; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-15429).
Below, some historical versions of Lucia’s cadenza.
In 2021 Musicom launched Donizetti studies (ISSN 2785-0331; EISSN 2785-4140), a peer-reviewed print and online journal whose scope is not limited to Donizetti, but extends to include Simon Mayr, the rich musical tradition of Bergamo, and, in general, Italian and French opera in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The journal’s format involves multiple sections: the first comprises original essays, the second presents unpublished or partially known documents, and the third takes on varying contents and forms, depending on needs. Also, the journal provides bibliographic materials that cover the most recent studies on Donizetti and his period.
Below, an excerpt from L’ange de Nisida, one of the works discussed in the inaugural issue.
Felice Romani revolutionized the Italian opera libretto, creating a clearly contoured melodramma romantico that was suitable for a through-composed setting.
Romani’s libretto for Donizetti’s Anna Bolena produced a virtually through-composed opera, making the meter conform to the dramatic situation and mood. In Act I, all the characters enter immediately after the prima donna, so that in place of the usual introductory aria there is now an ensemble. The entry of the seconda donna now leads as a rule to a concerted piece, the strettaof the pezzo concertato unleashing all the passions of the protagonists.
Act II proceeds similarly, except that its final scene is treated as a composition in its own right: Out of a stretta the concertato emerges, structured as a concert piece.
This according to Felice Romani–Gaetano Donizetti–Anna Bolena. Zur Asthetik politischer Oper in Italien zwischen 1826 und 1831 by Richard Hauser, a dissertation accepted by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in 1980.
Today it was our sad duty to add Joan Sutherland’s obituary to our database. Dubbed “La Stupenda” by the Italian press in 1960, Dame Joan was one of the greatest bel canto sopranos of all time. Above, we celebrate her artistry with a video clip from her farewell performance of her signature role, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
A note on obituaries in RILM: While we normally do not cover news items, we index obituaries because they often serve as important research sources—particularly those for less-known figures. Since we cannot possibly cover obituaries in all news sources, we focus on those published by the New York times. As always, anyone can add further items to the database through our Submissions webpage.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →