Opera can be an intimidating art form. Some people think it’s reserved for elites wearing monocles, and it can be hard to break down into easy sound bites. But don’t let that stop you from checking out Lucia di Lammermoor, because Donizetti’s most beloved opera has a real presence in pop culture. Lucia di Lammermoor’s melodies are some of the most irresistible in the operatic repertoire, and have appeared in The Three Stooges, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

So, what is Lucia di Lammermoor about, and why should you see it? Keep reading for a description of its Shakespearian plot in three main points: BetrothedBetrayed, and Beware.

Let’s break it down into layman’s terms (and, more importantly, English – this opera is in Italian!).

Betrothed

The fictional character of Lucia represents the many victims of arranged marriages. Set in the 17th century in Scotland, this opera depicts a struggling family that fears the loss of their family fortune. Desperate to preserve the family wealth, Lucia’s brother, Enrico, arranges for Lucia to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw. Lucia does not love Arturo, though, and in fact, she secretly commits her life and love to Edgardo, a member of a rival family.

Betrayed

As the wedding nears, Enrico is enraged to learn about Lucia and her lover, but Lucia refuses to marry Arturo, since her heart is set on Edgardo. So Enrico forges a letter, supposedly from Edgardo, to give to Lucia. The letter says that Edgardo has found another woman, and will marry her instead.

Crushed, Lucia relents to her brother’s demands, and sadly agrees to marry Arturo. But it wouldn’t be an opera if it ended there: this is when the wedding cake really hits the finials. Just after Lucia signs the marriage contract, Edgardo bursts in, outraged to find that Lucia has betrayed him. But he is too late.

Beware

Tormented by her own dark premonitions and the loss of Edgardo, Lucia spirals into despair, and descends into violence on her wedding night. She kills Arturo, then returns to the festivities in the famous “mad scene.” The melody she sings is strikingly beautiful in contrast to the gruesome murder she has just committed, as she deliriously sings about being married to Edgardo, then collapses. The wedding guests are shocked at the spectacle, and Enrico is furious at first, but the spiraling doesn’t stop there. Enrico blames others for the tragedy, and Edgardo laments for Lucia. When Edgardo hears about her death, he is determined to join Lucia in heaven, and kills himself.

Performances of Lucia di Lammermoor are March 7, 11, 13 & 15 at the Kauffman Center. Tickets start at $29, available here