The bride wore blood Lucia di Lammermoor
There will be blood. In most productions there is lots of it, dripping down the virginal white nightgown of unfortunate Lucia di Lammermoor near the end of the eponymous opera. Her brother, Enrico Ashton, Lord (or Laird) of Lammermoor, has essentially pimped her out, forcing her to marry the well-placed Lord Arturo Bucklaw, an alliance meant to restore the Ashton family’s depleted fortunes. Lucia has resisted. She loves not Arturo but Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood, whom Enrico views as “the mortal enemy of my family”; indeed, Lucia and Edgardo have privately exchanged rings and nuptial vows, although their marriage has not been blessed by the church. Great pressure is brought to bear on Lucia. Enrico tries to persuade her through letters he has had forged, letters that purportedly reveal Edgardo’s love for another woman. He has a chaplain inform Lucia that if she does not marry Arturo, “your mother in her grave will shudder with horror because of you.” She has given in. No sooner has she signed her marriage contract with Arturo than Edgardo bursts in and condemns her for breaking the vow they had considered sacred.
Festivities move ahead, with partygoers celebrating the restored fortunes of the Ashton family. But a shriek penetrates the revelry. The chaplain enters: “From the rooms where Lucia had retired with her husband a cry of despair … a scream came as from a man who is near to death! … Arthur lay there on the floor, mute, cold, bloodless! And Lucia was clutching the sword that belonged to the slaughtered man!” The bride then appears. “Lucia enters in white,” reads the stage direction. “Her hair hangs disheveled and her deathly pale face makes her look more like a ghost than a living being. Her glassy stare and convulsive movements demonstrate clearly that she is out of her senses, and that her life is drawing to its close.” Deranged, she sings in her fantasy to the man she truly loves. She imagines that she is now going to wed Edgardo and, foreseeing her own imminent death, insists that happiness will attend them both when they meet in heaven. The stage direction for her famous Mad Scene doesn’t mention blood per se, but crazed Lucia in her stained gown has become an iconic image of the opera house. What director could resist?
Gaetano Donizetti and his librettist Salvadore Cammarano based their opera on the novel The Bride
of Lammermoor, published in 1819 by Sir Walter Scott. There is no question that the novel was amplified into a work of fiction, but when it appeared in an 1830 edition, as part of what were by then called the Waverley novels, Scott added an introduction in which he insisted that it was based on a historical incident that took place in the Lammermuir Hills near Edinburgh. “The Author, on a former occasion, declined giving the real source from which he drew the tragic subject of this history,” he wrote, “because, though occurring at a distant period, it might possibly be unpleasing to the feelings of the descendants of the parties. But as he finds an account of the circumstances given in the Notes to Law’s Memorials, by his ingenious friend, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe,