Sir Walter Scott’s oeuvre is full of characters dying tragic deaths, but it was Lucia’s descent into madness and her subsequent demise that touched him most deeply. “Of all the murders that I have committed …,” he would remark late in his life, “there is none that went so much to my heart as the poor Bride of Lammermoor.”
For almost two centuries, Lucia di Lammermoor has been an enduring staple of popular culture. In both Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857) and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875–77), for instance, the heroines attend performances of Donizetti’s masterwork. In Howard Hawks’s 1932 movie Scarface, the titular gangster whistles a tune from Lucia before murdering his victims; the same tune is used as a mob boss’s ringtone in The Departed (2006). In Season 5 of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, a soprano goes onstage to sing Lucia’s famous mad scene only minutes after committing murder. And, in a more comic vein, excerpts from the opera have been featured in Laurel and Hardy’s Squareheads of the Round Table, the Bugs Bunny short Long-Haired Hare, and the 1946 cartoon The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.
Donizetti’s interest in British history reached beyond the borders of Scotland. Over the course of his career, he would write three operas about English queens: Anna Bolena (1830), about the doomed Anne Boleyn; Maria Stuarda (1835), about Mary Stuart; and Roberto Devereux (1837), about Elizabeth I.
Ludwig van Beethoven considered writing an opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth, but it never came to fruition.