Nini, bloodshed, and La marescialla d’Ancre

Even if overlooked today, the surprising composer Alessandro Nini was a key figure in the evolution of the highly-coloured romantic drama of the Verdian mid-century.  This article prefaced the revival of his gory masterpiece at the Teatro G.B.Pergolesi at Jesi on 26 September 2003 where La marescialla d'Ancre was given a memorable performance.

 

The “hache sanglante” of the Duke of Alba

Donizetti began writing Le Duc d'Albe in Paris in 1838, two acts were composed to a French text, but for several reasons it was never completed. Only long after his death did it appear on stage and then in an Italian version and completed by a group of later composers. This text and synopsis were written for the programme of the first genuinely complete concert performance of the Italian version in modern times under the ægis of the Festival of Radio France Montpellier - Languedoc - Roussillon at Montpellier on 16 July 2007. The opera had in many ways the most perfect libretto the composer ever proposed to set to music.

 

Un exilé lyrique Achille de Lauzières

The librettist, translator, critic and poet of noble descent, Achille de Lauzières, was an essential entrepreneur in the operatic universe for almost the whole of the nineteenth century, linking Rossini to Bizet and Verdi and to so many others of his day. His unique foothold in Naples and Paris enabled him to view the musical culture of two nations with an especially sceptical eye. His was an important contribution to musical dissemination - vital to his contemporaries - unwisely put aside today. This paper is the first outline of his career in modern times.

 

Mabellini, political survival and Il conte di Lavagna

One of the notable operatic composers of pre-Risorgimento Italy Teodulo Mabellini was not a beneficiary of unification, he was obliged to take to the baton and a remarkable dramatic talent came to an end.

 

Black humour and Lauro Rossi's Il domino nero

The marchegiano composer Lauro Rossi reset a libretto originally written by Scribe for Auber in 1837 and turned it into a comedy all of his own.  This is a revised version of the notice supplied after the first modern revival of the opera at the Teatro G-B Pergolesi at Jesi on 28 September 2001

 

Lorenzino... de'Pacini? Lorenzino de'Medici

Between 1840 and 1860, at the very apex of his career, Giovanni Pacini wrote a series of pseudo-historic immensely emotional operas which were sung by the greatest artists of the day.  These works supplied the backbone of opera in Italy at a time when Donizetti and Verdi were intent on conquering audiences abroad. Their invention and variety are astonishing and made an indelible impact. Lorenzino de'Medici with its violent climax and genuine Italian credentials is a typical example of the genre.

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The Judgment of Paris grand opéra and Dom Sébastien

This paper was written in the wake of a concert-performance of Donizetti's masterpiece Dom Sébastien roi de Portugal at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London on 10 September 2005. Some amendments and corrections have been made.

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A curtain of silence over Auber’s La Muette de Portici

This review of an unimaginably awful staging of Auber's La Muette de Portici was written in 2002.  

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Il falegname v Il falegname

Both Giovanni Pacini and Gaeteno Donizetti wrote an opera called Il falegname di Livonia.  The opera by the first of these composers was by far the most brilliant and successful,  but it is the opera by the second that has survived to our day, thanks to the kudos that goes with a great reputation.  

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Il ritorno di Mayr

In 2010 an irreproachably classical opera by Johann Simon Mayr emerged at Regensburg - a city of his youth - but to the astonishment of the audience Il ritorno d'Ulisse was not set in Ithaca but replete with Samurai and Kimono's in the shadow of Mount Fuji

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Marathon Salamis

The career of the phenomenally gifted composer Paolo Carrer  scarcely extended beyond his native Greece, his brilliant operas are quite unknown and a few have never been staged. In 2003 Athens  performed his astonishing Marathon Salamis for the very first time. After 140 years of silence it was found to have a completely irresistible score, full of simply amazing music

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In the wake of L’esule di Roma 'Ogni tormento'

The very first of his operas to make an international impact, L'esule di Roma not only revealed Donizetti's operatic mastery for the first time,  but its depiction of the guilty  Senator Murena marked the beginning of his exploitation of lyrical delirium that would soon make his name.  The celebrated trio-finale to Act I has never been surpassed.

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Maria di Rohan Does life imitate art, or vice versa?

The romantic era played havoc with celebrities, fame was no guarantee that any  kind of integrity could survive the operatic stage.  Donizetti's Maria di Rohan - though wonderful as an opera has a heroine - in real life a major political protagonist - who is sacrificed in the interests of cod drama. This only proves that renown is no protection against mortal weakness where music is concerned. Don't put your daughter on the stage!

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L' Enfant du miracle Rita and her poet

The diminutive opéra comique Rita appeared posthumously in an edition that owed more to the taste of the times than to those of the composer.  In all probability the pruning of this vivid little farce was due to the discretion of its librettist Gustave Vaëz who found that cynicism and innuendo were unwelcome in the Paris of Napoleon III

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Madame Stoltz reconsidered Riveduta” possibly?

Donizetti's interminable problems and clashes with the celebrated primadonna-assoluta Rosine Stoltz  who made every effort to subvert his operas,  appear to be definitive -  to be the end of the story -  but in 1842,  if very briefly,  there was a strange amnesty, according to his letters.  Could it have been that her arrogant behaviour momentarily got less attention than her charms? 

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Il Vedovo Solitario

It was the name of Nicola De Giosa written faintly on one of the pages of the manuscript score that provided the key to the identification of Il vedovo solitario, a mysterious opera once attributed to Donizetti.   The manuscript proved to be both a  touching record of the celebrated  maestro and of his pupils in Naples,  as well as the saddest witness to his last days in that city.    This paper was written in 1994.

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Vaccai: un capolavoro decapitato (The headless masterpiece)

This account of the unhappy destiny of an important and successful opera by Nicola Vaccai was the main source for the programme note 'Sorte beffarda con Vaccai: sfortunato rivale di Bellini' for a revival of Bellini's  I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Teatro Massimo Bellini of Catania,  the latter's birthplace,  in the year 2000

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Federico's prison

The Neapolitan composer Federico Ricci began and ended his career writing comedies, in between he wrote one of the Italy's most intensely dramatic operas based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott.  Even though his education was ad hoc he became one of the most cultured maestri of his day, his compositional skills were remarkable and admired by Verdi,  his lifestyle less so.  This paper was published in 2003.

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One size fits all Pacini's Gli arabi nelle Gallie

Giovanni Pacini's melodramma  Gli arabi nelle Gallie ran to hundreds of revivals but was never the same twice,  there were always changes to the music, every aria, every duetto, terzetto, every coro, concertato and every finale was rewritten and rewritten  repeatedly according to the whim of the composer and those of the singers he served. After three decades the extra music was three times the length of the original score.  But it was no simple caprice, the opera offered itself as the utter antithesis of the frozen hand of authenticity we expect in the repertoire of our day.  

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Michele Carafa e la sua Gabriella

Michele Carafa di Colobrano is one of the most unjustly neglected composers of the nineteenth century, his colourful origins deliberately supressed in order to conform with the role he gave himself as Rossini's shadow in Paris.  This paper was written in 1999 as a preliminary to a long study upon the melodramma romantico and its roots in the trauma following the defeat of Napoleon.

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Gli esiliati in Siberia, exile, and Gaetano Donizetti

Certain operas offer a key to a composer's way of life. Gaetano Donizetti's romantic melodrama Otto mesi in due ore- refurbished constantly - is such a score.  This paper was written in the context of the first modern performance of this true-life tale of heroism during the Festival de Radio France Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon under the subsequent title of Gli esiliati in Siberia in the year 1999.

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A miracle written twice: Caterina di Guisa

The Neapolitan composer Carlo Coccia was far from being a "one opera" maestro but one of his romantic operas stands out very clearly from all the rest, astonishingly, however, after three years of triumph he promptly rewrote it.  Both times it was a huge success.   This paper was written for the programme book of the first modern revival of his Caterina di Guisa at the Teatro Chiabrera of Savona in the autumn of 1990

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Nell’orror di mie sciagure Pacini, parody and Il pirata

Vincenzo Bellini and Giovanni Pacini, operatic rivals and concittadini (both born in Catania) began on the wrong foot, Bellini resented the arrogance and ease with which his high-profile rival monopolised the repertory.   Pacini considered the upstart Bellini to be musically deficient, his I cavalieri di Valenza was written to torment the younger composer - a hilarious and provocative parody of  Il pirata  played out on the stage of La Scala with a near-identical cast but a confrontation that ended badly -  unleashing a hornet's nest of acrimonious division in the critical ranks that still has echoes. This paper was originally published in an Italian translation in 2004.

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Mayr in London

Though always on the fringe, London played a significant role in the dissemination of Mayr's music in the nineteenth century, while in modern times there has been an impressive series of champions and  revivals in that city.  This paper was written in the context of the "Incontro con Giovanni Simone Mayr" Exhibition of 2006 at Ingolstadt,  close to his birthplace in Bavaria

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Donizetti’s “Birthday” offering to Bertel Thorvaldsen

Donizetti's musical contribution to the "Birthday" celebrations of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen at  Rome in 1836 formed the basis of a paper read at the Convegno Internazionale di Studi in honour of the 80th birthday celebrations of the Donizettian scholar William Ashbrook in 2002,  at Donizetti's birthplace in  Bergamo.

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Twin composers divided by the same opera
 Crispino e la comare and the fratelli Ricci

One of the very few multi-composer operas to achieve fame, Crispino e la comare ovvero Il medico e la morte by the Ricci brothers, Luigi and Federico,  has never quite left the repertory.  This text is a revision of the programme note supplied for the fine revival of this melodramma fantastico-giocoso at the Teatro Chiabrera of Savona in 1989

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Una fanatica per la musica di Mayr? Angelica Catalani and Il fanatico per la musica in London in 1824

The use of a farce by Simon Mayr as a weapon in a war of attrition was both amusing and self-destructive yet supplied a terminal point for cynical fantasy in the face of the heady excesses of the romantic opera about to emerge. The famous prima donna, Angelica Catalani, bridged a world between the certainties of the eighteenth century and the dramatic adventures of the Napoleonic era, her championship of composers on the cusp of change was flawed by her need to triumph at all costs and to defeat her rivals.

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“Ambi al ceppo!” The unfinished history of Petrella’s Caterina Howard

This study of one of the most elusive operas by Errico Petrella was written in the context of his bicentenary celebrations at Palermo in 2013. An exceptionally ambitious score with an unfamiliar Tudor heroine this extravagant tragedy achieved only a flawed apotheosis  after Petrella's death in a compilation that owed more to the skills of others than to those of the composer himself

 

Une ténébreuse affaire or worse: the fate of an opera by Costantino Palumbo

Costantino Palumbo wrote an opera that vanished without trace in the middle of rehearsal. Whatever could have happened? Who was responsible? A mystery scenario involves the scabrous Pier Luigi Farnese that vanished from the stage of the major Opera House in Rome despite the most celebrated librettist of the day, the most fêted conductor and a most important publisher. More than a century later its complete disappearance remains unanswered.

 

Donizetti intimo  Trema Bisanzio!

Donizetti's decision to set to music the unhappy plot of Beiisario once his spellbinding Lucia di Lammermoor had been launched for posterity owed as much to his own dysfunctional family as to that of its Byzantine hero.  The opera, it would seem, was a spin-off from a longstanding fraternal conflict that would never be properly resolved.

 

A donizettian life Nicola De Giosa

Nicola De Giosa was Donizetti's most fervent pupil and disciple, he kept the master's torch burning when, inevitably, fashion began to turn elsewhere, he turned his conductor's baton into a weapon of attack when the decline of Naples became more and more acute in the newly unified Kingdom of Italy. The quality and originality of his music have not been recognised, but nor has the quality and originality of his lifestyle which turned him into an international figure against all the odds, and ending his compositional career with an extraordinary surprise - literally arm-in-arm with his teacher and idol.

 

Attorno a Marin Fal(l)iero stampato

The dark and dramatic azione tragica Marino Faliero is not performed with the music its composer originally wrote for it - the editions that circulate today contain only a shadow of its original construction, plot, and scarifying impact. This paper on Donizetti's modified masterpiece was written for a convegno held at the Teatro Regio in Parma in December 2001 to coincide with a fine staging of this key work at the first peak of his international career

 

Malibran recalled (Harps and tears)

The completely unexpected death of the most fêted singer of the day left shock -waves over operatic Europe. With a text garnered from modest sources a group of the most prominent Italian composers got together a commemorative cantata in her honour. It had one only performance. For a moment musical rivalry was stifled under the impact of the loss of Maria Malibran, one which marked the end of an era and heralded the birth of another: the all-important prima-donna was eclipsed, the Verdian hegemony was ready to begin.

 

An angry young man of 1833 Il furioso

The semiseria operas of Donizetti often have a radical edge - his collaboration with the liberally-minded Roman poet Jacopo Ferretti led to themes of exclusion, isolation and alienation and exceptionally moving plots. The most agonisingly colourful of these was Il furioso all'isola di S.Domingo where humour and tragedy collide inexorably in a touching tropical dance of fate. This paper An angry young man of 1833 was written in anticipation of important revivals of the opera in the period then about to begin.

 

The Queen of Dissent and her operas

Mary Stuart was unlucky both on and off stage, an embargo, even, being placed on operas that bore her name in Naples. Drawn into absurd revolutionary fantasies without historical justification the tragic queen suffered an ongoing musical decapitation for decades. But the Neapolitan composer Carlo Coccia broke the mould momentously (in London) and despite the ensuing débâcle of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in Naples with its fisticuffs, frustration, deceit and forfeit it eventually emerged as one of the world's most successful operas

 

Donizetti at Ivry - Notes from a tragic coda

In 1846 Donizetti was coerced into entering a maison de santé on the outskirts of Paris. There he received the most advanced medical treatment of the day at the hands of France's most eminent doctors, but his mental health continued to deteriorate and it was only when he finally became lost to the world that he was allowed to leave. This paper gives the first detailed picture of his place of sequestration, of his tragic odyssey, and a snapshot of the site as it exists today.

 

Cornaro x 2

Thanks largely to the huge success of French grand-opéra there was a continuous inflation in stage-works during the nineteenth-century, the vocal score of Fromental Halévy's 5 Acte La Reine de Chypre was made by Richard Wagner, Donizetti's response - Caterina Cornaro - not only echoed its plot but offered an augury for further evolution. This paper was written in the context of a concert performance of Donizetti's opera at Montpellier in 2014

 

Stella di Napoli To Naples with love?

The illustrious librettist Salvadore Cammarano - together with his peer poets Felice Romani and Gaetano Rossi had a bumpy ride when writing verses for rival composers; Saverio Mercadante and Giovanni Pacini in particular, head-to-head, set him a real problem in 1845 with scarcely concealed mischief deciding the choice of plot. Cammarano survived the conflict but it was a Pyrrhic victory for the composer who came out on top.