Donizetti, Rossini & Other Composers To Adapt Walter Scott’s Works Into Operas

By David Salazar

Walter Scott, born on August 15, 1771, is among the most important English-language writers, his works essential parts of the literary canon.

In fact, he created some true masterpieces that would go on to inspire some of the greatest opera composers as well. Here is a look at the important operas based on the works of Scott.


Scott’s most famous novel got a number of operatic adaptations, though none are particularly well-known in the canon. The first of these was a pastiche opera set to a French libretto that combined music from a number of Rossini operas, including “Semiramide” “La Gazza ladra,” and “Tancredi,” among many other works. The opera was later repurposed as “The Maid of Judah” and was largely forgotten until it was performed at the Festival della Valle d’Itria in 2001.

The other major adaptation of the opera is “Il Templario” by Otto Nicolai, arguably the composer’s most recognized work, alongside “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” It premiered in 1840 and had a solid run though it disappeared thereafter. It was reconstructed in the early 2000s.

Another adaptation of the famed work was made by Arthur Sullivan, which premiered in 1891 and going on a run of 155 consecutive performances. The opera disappeared throughout the 20th century and has made rare reappearances in modern times.

Heinrich Marschner’s “Der Templer und die Jüdin” was also based on works that took their inspiration from the famed novel.

The Lady of the Lake

Rossini’s famous adaptation of the composer’s work, “La Donna del Lago,” was actually the first of the Italian operas to take its cues from the writer. The opera premiered in 1819, just nine years after Scott wrote the poem in 1810 and sparked an interest in adapting his works for the Italian opera stage. While “La Donna” lost popularity in the 20th century, it has re-established itself within the canon in recent years with such artists as Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez championing the opera.

The Bride of Lammermoor

The most famous of all Scott-based operas, “Lucia Di Lammermoor,” really needs no introduction, as it has held the stage since it premiered in 1838. The novel was actually published anonymously as part of the “Waverly novels.”


Other examples of Scott adaptations include George Bizet’s adaptation of “The Fair Maid of Perth,” “Jeanie Deans” by Hamish MacCunn, which is based off “The Heart of Midlothian,” and François-Adrien Boieldieu’s “La Dame Blanche,” which took its cues from five different Scott works including “The Abbot,” and “The Monastery,” among others. Donizetti also adapted “Kenilworth” into an opera known as “Il Castello di Kenilworth,” which proved to be his first foray into the world of the Tudor dynasty. There were many others, particularly in Italy, though many were lost over the years.


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