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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2020
As many scholars have shown, regardless of its popularity today, the ‘mad scene’ of Lucia di Lammermoor was not popular in the several years that followed the premiere in 1835. In fact, audiences, critics and publishers of opera selections for the salon preferred the love duet of act 1 or the final scene of the opera when Edgardo kills himself upon hearing the news that Lucia is dead. In this article, I explore early nineteenth-century notions of hysteria, a disease that manifested with both physical and emotional symptoms. If undiagnosed, the individual suffering from the disease would experience muscle contractions, pupil dilations, delusions, cardiac arrest and eventual death. One of the seminal studies of hysteria in the first half of the nineteenth century was written by the French physician and medical historian Frédéric Dubois d'Amiens (1799–1873), who published in 1833 Histoire philosophique de l'hypochondrie et de l'hystérie, a 500-plus page investigation into the cause and cure of hysterics and hypochondriacs. Through an investigation of the diagnosis of hysteria in d'Amiens's work and the sound and look of hysteria in Donizetti's opera, now made more acute through familiarity with the newly invented stethoscope (1816, René Laennec) and its ability to deliver the internal sounds of the body, we can see how close the opera comes to mirroring the look and sound of the disease, which may explain the lack of enthusiasm and in some cases outright hostility to Lucia's fall into madness in the early reception of the work in France.
I am grateful to Mary Ann Smart, who read this article in draft form and presented me with helpful insights.
1 Lucia di Lammermoor was ‘performed annually [at the Théâtre-Italien] until 1855 (excepting 1852), with four performances during December 1837, seventeen in 1838, ten in 1839, six in 1840, six in 1841, twelve in 1842, eleven in 1843, four in 1844, seven in 1845, three in 1846, and nine in 1847’ (Rebecca Harris-Warrick, ‘Lucia Goes to Paris: A Tale of Three Theaters’, in Music, Theater, and Cultural Transfer: Paris, 1830–1914, ed. Annegret Fauser and Mark Everist (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004): 212).
2 Ashbrook, William, ‘Popular Success, the Critics and Fame: The Early Careers of Lucia di Lammermoor and Belisario’, Cambridge Opera Journal 2/1 (1990): 65–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pugliese, Romana Margherita, ‘The Origins of Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, Cambridge Opera Journal 16/1 (2004): 23–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Smart, Mary Ann, ‘The Silencing of Lucia’, Cambridge Opera Journal 4/2 (1992): 119–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Rebecca Harris-Warrick, ‘Lucia goes to Paris’, 195–227.
3 Flaubert, Gustave, Madame Bovary, vol. 2: 15 (Paris: Editions Jacques Vautrain, 1946): 209Google Scholar. The novel was first published as a literary serial in La Revue de Paris, from 1 October to 15 December 1856. Set in Normandy in the mid-1840s, the work highlights the life journey of a young woman escaping her provincial origins to find the love and happiness she read about in novels of her youth. Her life ends tragically when she swallows arsenic in order to free herself from the pain of guilt caused by earlier affairs and acts of deception. Lucie de Lammermoor (the French version of the Italian opera) appears in the middle of the novel after Emma's husband suggests that they visit the opera house at Rouen in order to restore her health. Emma's negative reaction to the ‘mad scene’ is ultimately viewed in the novel as a motivation for her to seek a new love affair in spite of the warning that the tragedy of Lucia revealed to any woman who went against her family's wishes. For more information on Madame Bovary in relation to Lucia, see Newark, Cormac, Opera in the Novel from Balzac to Proust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 78–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
4 Gérard de Nerval, ‘Théâtre-Italien: Lucia di Lammermoor’, La Presse (27 Dec. 1837): 1.
5 A.Z., ‘Théâtre-Italien: Lucia di Lamermoor, musique de Donizetti’, La revue et gazette musicale de Paris (17 Dec. 1837).
6 Hibberd, Sarah, ‘“Dormez donc, mes chers amours”: Hérold's La somnambule (1827) and Dream Phenomena on the Parisian Lyric Stage’, Cambridge Opera Journal 16/2 (2004): 107–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Among the many dramatic portrayals of mad women in Paris in the late 1820s, Harriet Smithson's performance of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet is certainly considered the most famous. Her celebrated 11 September 1827 debut performance of Ophelia famously inspired Berlioz to write not only his Symphonie fantastique of 1830 but also his much later work La Mort d'Ophélie (1842/48). For more information about Harriet and her portrayal of Ophelia as a muse to French romantics, see Raby, Peter, Fair Ophelia: A Life of Harriet Smithson Berlioz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)Google Scholar; Boutin, Aimée, ‘Shakespeare, Women, and French Romanticism’, Modern Language Quarterly 65/4 (2004): 505–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Showalter, Elaine, ‘Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism’, in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Hartman, Geoffrey and Parker, Patricia (London: Routledge, 1985): 77–94Google Scholar.
7 According to Pugliese, the origins of the ‘mad aria’ being extended well beyond the Donizetti original date back to an 1889 performance at the Paris Opéra with Australian soprano Nellie Melba (1861–1932) singing the title role; see Pugliese, ‘The Origins of Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, 30–35.
8 In the Walter Scott original text, Lucy Ashton's desire to marry the man she loves is continually thwarted by her mother, Lady Ashton, who suppresses every independent desire of her daughter. Such abuse, coupled with Lucy's sense of guilt of marrying a man she does not love, renders her at the end of the novel insane and mute. For a comparison between the novel and the opera in the treatment of Lucy/Lucia, see Newark, Opera in the Novel, 85–98; and Mary Ann Smart, ‘The Silencing of Lucia’, 123–5.
9 For a discussion of the psychological effect of guilt and shame upon Lucia's actions as defined by the libretto and music in the opera, see Nagel, Julie Jaffee, ‘Psychoanalytic and Musical Perspectives on Shame in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor’, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 56/2 (2008): 551–63CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.
10 Cammarano, Salvatore, Lucia di Lammermoor: Dramma tragico in due parti, act 3, scene 5 (Naples: Dalla Tip. Flautino, 1835): 32Google Scholar.
11 Similar to Lucia, the two-act Rosmonda is set in Great Britain with a lyric soprano in the title role, who also is prone to fainting and dies due to the wrongful love of a suitor. The aria ‘Perché non ho del vento’ (‘why do I not have wings’?) is heard in act 1, scene 2 as Rosmonda accompanies herself on the harp and hopes for the day she and her lover Enrico (King Henry II in disguise) may be reunited. For more information on the substitution of the ‘mad aria’ in later performances of Lucia, see Poriss, Hilary, ‘A Madwoman's Choice: Aria Substitution in Lucia di Lammermoor’, Cambridge Opera Journal 13/1 (2001): 1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
12 Rebecca Harris-Warrick, ‘Lucia goes to Paris’, 203–4.
13 According to Olson, Harry F. in the chapter ‘Characteristics of Musical Instruments’, in Music, Physics and Engineering (New York: Dover, 1967): 201–41Google Scholar, the somewhat disorienting quality of the glass harmonica is due in part to the way that humans perceive and locate ranges of sounds. The fundamental pitch of the glass harmonica is in the range of 1–4 kHz, which coincides with the sound range where the brain has difficulty locating the sound source and the materials and techniques used to produce it. Owing to this disorientation with the sound of the glass harmonica, the instrument is often perceived to represent a reality that is heard but not seen. For more information on the glass harmonica and its connection to nerve disorders and mental illness, see Pesic's article ‘Composing the Crisis’ in this issue as well as Hadlock, Heather, ‘Sonorous Bodies: Women and the Glass Harmonica’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 53/3 (2000): 507–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kennaway, James G., Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as Cause of Disease (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012)Google Scholar; and Raz, Carmel, ‘“The Expressive Organ within Us”: Ether, Ethereality, and Early Romantic Ideas about Music and the Nerves’, Nineteenth-Century Music 38/2 (2014): 115–44Google Scholar.
14 According to Roger Parker, Donizetti's desire to use the glass harmonica in this scene was compromised by a legal battle the resident glass harmonica player had with the theatre in Naples; see Roger Parker, ‘Lucia di Lammermoor's Mad Tragedy in Donizetti's Mad Life’, The Guardian (28 Jan. 2010).
15 Mary Ann Smart, ‘The Silencing of Lucia’, 128.
16 As per the libretto, right before Lucia's entrance in act 3, the priest describes Arturo's dead body covered in blood and prays that Lucia's blood-soaked hand (‘destra di sangue impure’) will not invite the wrath of God. Although Lucia's ‘blood-filled’ appearance in act 3 is a common element described in reviews of opera productions today, I have found no Paris reviews of the 1830s or 1840s that make mention of the blood in Lucia's appearance on stage. Indeed, the stage directions do not mention blood on the white dress of Lucia. However, in the Scott original, which serves as the model for this scene, Lucy Ashton is covered in blood from her victim's wound as she sits in the shadows of a large chimney.
17 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 3, scene 5, 32.
18 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 3, scene 5, 32.
19 According to William Ashbrook, even though Donizetti wrote out a cadenza for the end of this section of the aria, it was still expected for the singer to improvise this characteristic vocal set piece at each performance. Ashbrook, William, Donizetti and his Operas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982): 376CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For more information on the cadenza and its connection to madness, see Pugliese, ‘The Origins of ‘Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, 23–42; and Smart, ‘The Silencing of Lucia’, 127–30.
20 For a music analysis of this section of the aria, see McClary, Susan, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991): 90–98Google Scholar.
21 René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec was born in 1781 in western France (Brittany region), where at age 12 he began his study of medicine with his uncle, a professor of medicine in Nantes. Laennec entered the University of Paris in 1799, studying under highly acclaimed medical professionals, such as the chief physician to Napoleon, Jean-Nicholas Corvisart (1755–1821), who would later help Laennec establish the stethoscope in the medical community in France and beyond. For a biography of Laennec, see Duffin, Jacalyn, To See with a Better Eye: The Life of R.T.H. Laennec (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014)Google Scholar.
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23 Sterne, Jonathan, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Production (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003): 99Google Scholar.
24 Sterne, The Audible Past, 127. In Foucault's, Michel The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception, trans. Smith, A.M. Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1973): 164Google Scholar, the author discusses at some length the influence of the stethoscope to medical perception, whereby he argues that ‘the medical gaze is now endowed with a pluri-sensorial structure. A gaze that touches, hears, and, moreover, not by essence or necessity, sees,’
25 Duffin, To see with a Better Eye, 209.
26 Bellanger, N., Revue médicale historique et philosophique 1/1 (Jan. 1820): 1–138Google Scholar. The author was the chief internist at the Hôpital de la Charité in Paris. Founded in the early 1600s, it was one of the oldest and most respected hospitals in the nineteenth century. See Duffin, To See with a Better Eye, 210, for a discussion of this review.
27 Cited in Rosen, George, ‘A Note on the Reception of the Stethoscope in England’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 7/1 (Jan. 1939): 93–4Google Scholar. For a mid-nineteenth-century example of the stethoscope used as the subject of a poem, see ‘To the Stethoscope’, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 61/377 (Mar. 1847): 361–7Google Scholar. For information on the legacy of Laennec in the nineteenth century, see Weisz, George, ‘The Posthumous Laennec: Creating a Modern Medical Hero, 1826–1870’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61/4 (1987): 541–62Google ScholarPubMed.
28 Sterne, The Audible Past, 129.
29 Laennec, René, Traité de l'auscultation médiate et des maladies des poumons et du cœur, 2ème édition (Paris: J.S. Chaudé, 1826): 423Google Scholar. For discussion of this passage in relation to the sound of Chopin, a tubercular sufferer, see Kasunic, David, ‘Revisiting Chopin's Tubercular Song, or, An Opera in the Making’, in Chopin and his World, ed. Bellman, Jonathan D. and Goldberg, Halina (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017): 103–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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31 Kasunic, ‘Revisiting Chopin's Tubercular Song’, 109.
32 For the full section in the treatise where Laennec discusses these sounds, see Laennec, Traité de l'auscultation médiate, vol. 2, 421–48.
33 The ‘swan song’ as defined by Laennec was often popularized by early nineteenth-century writers, most especially in the work of Honoré de Balzac. For example, in the 1833 novel Le Médecin de campagne (Paris: L. Mame-Delaunay, 1833), the main character, a Doctor Benassis, interprets the distant sounds heard while traveling on a county road as that of a tubercular youth in the last stages of life. For commentary on Balzac's novel in relation to the practice of medicine in France, see Hildreth, Martha L., ‘Balzac's Le Médecin de campagne in Medical Discourse: Imagining the Doctor's Role in the Third Republic’, Journal of the Western Society for French History 32 (2004), 256–76Google Scholar.
34 For a survey of the critical reviews of Laennec's treatise on auscultation and the device itself as viewed in the first half of the nineteenth century, see Bishop, P.J., “Reception of the Stethoscope and Laënnec's Book”, Thorax 36 (1981): 487–92CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.
35 See Johnson, James H., Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995): 239–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar, where he describes in the final section of his book ‘The Musical Experience of Romanticism’ a new way of listening in Paris that followed the 1830 revolution and the symphonies of Beethoven.
36 Le Temps (23 Dec. 1837); cited in Harris-Warrick ‘Lucia goes to Paris’, 220.
37 See Hutcheon, Linda and Hutcheon, Michael, Opera: Desire, Disease, Death (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996): 12Google Scholar, which argues that ‘of all the art forms, perhaps only opera is so thoroughly dependent on suffering in general as a narrative and emotional staple. The body, the singing body, gives voice to the drama of the suffering person – in this case the sick person; in the process it also gives meaning to both the disease and the one who suffers it.’
38 In the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for scientists to rent theatrical spaces and to invite the public in order to demonstrate their latest scientific findings. Science thus became a public drama, which highlighted the forces of nature that define our reality. Indeed, according to Tresch, John, Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012): 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar: ‘Science was no longer mere observation: it was instead the production of effects’; see also Olson, Richard G., Science and Scientism in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008): 164–206Google Scholar.
39 Peschel, Enid and Peschel, Richard, ‘Donizetti and the Music of Mental Derangement: Anna Bolena, Lucia di Lammermoor, and the Composer's Neurobiological Illness’, The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 65 (1992): 190Google Scholar.
40 See Peschel and Peshel, ‘Donizetti and the Music of Mental Derangement’, 191–2.
41 Harris-Warrick, ‘Lucia goes to Paris’, 214, 227. According to letters dating from 1829, Donizetti was already complaining of the symptoms that would eventually claim his life; see Peschel and Peschel, ‘Donizetti and the Music of Mental Derangement’, 190.
42 For a comprehensive social history of the disease from Ancient Egypt to the late nineteenth century, see Veith, Ilza, Hysteria: The History of a Disease (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965)Google Scholar and Foucault, Michel, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Howard, Richard (New York: Vintage, 1973)Google Scholar. For a more recent study that looks at hysteria in both men and women, see Dmytriw, Adam A., ‘Gender and Sex Manifestations in Hysteria Across Medicine and the Arts’, European Neurology 73/1–2 (2014): 44–50CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, and Goldstein, Jan, ‘The Uses of Male Hysteria: Medical and Literary Discourse in Nineteenth-Century France’, Representations 34 (1991): 134–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
43 E. Frédéric Dubois d'Amiens (1797–1873) was a French physician and an historian of medicine, who served as the permanent secretary of the medical pathology department of the Paris Académie de Médecine from 1847 to his death in 1873. In the years between the completion of his medical degree and passing his civil service examination, Dubois d'Amiens won an essay competition in 1830 offered by the Royal Society of Medicine in Bordeaux, where one was asked ‘What are the differences and similarities between hypochondria and hysteria?’. After winning the essay competition, Dubois d'Amiens published his manuscript, which brought the new methods of anatomical pathology to bear on the nosological discourse surrounding hysteria and hypochondria. For a biography of Dubois d'Amiens and a discussion of his book, see Klein, Alexandre, ‘Frédéric Dubois d'Amiens, médecin-philosophe: L'exemple de la question de la Société Royale de Médecine de Bordeaux de 1830’, Histoire des sciences médicales 45/2 (2011): 131–45Google Scholar.
44 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 21–2, 289. Although Dubois d'Amiens separates the symptoms, causes, and cures of the two diseases in his publication, the mental illness that occurs within both diseases, namely monomania, idiocy, and delirium, are presented in his discussion on hypochondria. For a definition of monomania in a musical context, see Brittan, Francesca, ‘Berlioz and the Pathological Fantastic: Melancholy, Monomania, and the Romantic Autobiography’, Nineteenth-Century Music 29/3 (2006): 211–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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48 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 299–302. Dubois d'Amiens's conclusions on hysteria were in the majority opinion of that found in the medical community throughout Europe. For example, in Hall, Marshall, Commentaries on Some of the Most Important of the Diseases of Females (London: Longman et al. , 1827)Google Scholar, the British physician supports Dubois d'Amiens's assessment with detailed descriptions and images of the physical effects and causes of the disease (see, chapter 6, 80–9; and ‘Explanation of Plates’, 4–6).
49 Vieth, Hysteria, 151–4. Curiously, for men, when suffering from similar symptoms of female hysteria (that is to say, a hypochondriac), such lesions are found in the gastro-intestinal tract; see Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 289.
50 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 238–288.
51 See note 16.
52 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 96–7. It is interesting to note that in recent productions of the opera, the appearance of blood is more pronounced in this penultimate scene, where some productions, such as the Katie Mitchell 2016 production at The Royal Opera House in London, even go so far as to have Lucia dripping in blood.
53 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 290–92.
54 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 1, scene 4, 9–10.
55 In modern productions, it is customary to have the ghost appear as a character on stage to remind the audience of exactly what Lucia is thinking. I have found no evidence in the Paris productions of the first half of the nineteenth century that the ghost appears on stage.
56 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 2, scene 2, 16.
57 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 2, scene 2, 17.
58 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 2, scene 5, 22.
59 Cammarano, Lucia di Lammermoor, act 2, scene 6, 26.
60 Dubois d'Amiens, Histoire philosophique, 176.
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69 See Anna Jenkins, ‘Perceptions of the Murderesses in London and Paris, 1674–1789’ (PhD diss., University of Sheffield, 2015); Shapiro, Ann-Louise, Breaking the Codes: Female Criminality in Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chevalier, Louis, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes in Paris During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Jellinek, Frank (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973)Google Scholar; and Foucault, Madness and Civilization, whose compelling text argues that in nineteenth-century society a sense of normality is achieved through the suppression and exclusion of the abnormal, whereby the mentally ill, criminal and the idle poor were placed in houses of confinement, such as the Hôpital général de Paris.
70 See note 7. The favourable reception of Lucia's ‘mad scene’ in the second half of the nineteenth century is often made in reference to the work of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893); see for example Clément, Catherine, Opera, or, The Undoing of Women, trans. Wing, Betsy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999): 87–90Google Scholar, and Pugliese, ‘The Origins of Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, 30–42. The founder of modern neurology, Charcot would turn the diagnosis and cure of hysteria into pure theatre. In Paris he would perform autopsies in front of huge audiences and exhibit hysteria patients in order to demonstrate that excessive sensitivity of the ovaries was one of the direct causes of the illness and also the cure. Charcot even would later publish photographs of hysteria patients in a way to highlight their physiognomy, which demonstrated an excessive vocality in the sufferer of the disease; see Charcot, Jean-Martin, Charcot, the Clinician: The Tuesday Lessons, trans. Goetz, Christopher G. (New York: Raven Press, 1987)Google Scholar, and Hustvedt, Asti, Medical Musses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris (New York: Norton, 2011)Google Scholar.
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72 The cadenza was such a point of concern for Melba that according to an article in L'Art musicale (15 Dec. 1889), she and the directors devoted 10 weeks of rehearsals to the mad aria alone; see Pugliese, ‘The Origins of Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, 30–35.
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74 As Pugliese argues, such a change in the ‘mad aria’ reflects the late nineteenth-century preference for female tragic figures who subvert their status of victimhood to become powerful women independent of men (a femme fatale); see Pugliese, ‘The Origins of Lucia di Lammermoor's Cadenza’, 37–42.
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