The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes—Week 31: Divine Donizetti

I, in a very modest manner, shall walk about with bowed head; I’ll have rave reviews… I can become immortal… My mind is vast, my genius swift… And at composing a thunderbolt am I. (Gaetano Donizetti predicting his future at 14 years of age).

Step into the distinctive musical and dramatic universe of one of the greatest masters of the bel canto (beautiful singing) style repertory of the nineteenth century: Gaetano Donizetti. Melodically inventive and profound, Donizetti brought to the art of bel canto what no one else had, at least not to this extent of complexity. He often succeeded in coloring the characteristic sweetness of the style, that at times could get too saccharine, in shades of darkness, in musical torment of harmonies and turns of key that surprise and add orchestral depth to the translucence of the melodies. Yet even while creating dramatic turmoil for his characters, he was also a comedic genius as we will see in the three comic operas this week. The nightly stream starts at 7:30 p.m. on the Met’s homepage and can be accessed for 22 hours. Please click on the title of each opera below for more information and the link to the full synopsis. To discover even more about the operas featured this week, check out the weekly guide along with articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, and educational resources.

Monday, October 12
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor – Starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Becza?a, Mariusz Kwiecie?, and Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From February 7, 2009.

Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor this is a Gothic story replete with a ghost, murder, thwarted love, and Lucia’s famous “mad scene” – a showcase piece of virtuosity for the soprano voice that expresses the character’s loss of sanity. 

Tuesday, October 13
Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment – Starring Natalie Dessay, Felicity Palmer, Juan Diego Flórez, and Alessandro Corbelli, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From April 26, 2008.

A lively comedy about a young woman, Marie, who grows up in a French regiment and falls in love with a Tyrolean, Tonio. The opera is best known for its tenor’s show-stopping aria “Ah! mes amis/Pour mon âme” that has a total of 9 high C’s—a spectacular high note in the tenor voice—that have often turned into 18 high C’s when tenors have encored the piece.

Wednesday, October 14
Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore – Starring Pretty Yende, Matthew Polenzani, Davide Luciano, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, conducted by Domingo Hindoyan. From February 10, 2018.

The Elixir of Love is one of the most frequently performed of Donizetti’s operas. This sweet, entertaining story is inspired by Eugène Scribe’s libretto for Daniel Auber’s opera that premiered a year earlier, Le philtre. Packed with gorgeous, effervescent melodies and comical moments, it is one of the ideal starter operas for a newcomer to the lyric art. 

Thursday, October 15
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena – Starring Anna Netrebko, Ekaterina Gubanova, Tamara Mumford, Stephen Costello, and Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From October 15, 2011.

The first of the Tudor Queens—also referred to as “The Donizetti Queens”—operatic trilogy and an instant success for Donizetti. This opera fell into obscurity and returned to the public’s attention in the mid-twentieth century with interpretations of the title role by divas like Maria Callas. The unhappy fate of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, is showcased in beautiful, elaborate, vocally demanding music, including a “mad scene.” The character of Anne Boleyn continues to stimulate the imagination of writers, television auteurs, and filmmakers, and the number of creative interpretations of her story is enormous. Goodreads alone offers a list of 64 books about or related to Anne Boleyn. For a dramatic and sensual film adaptation watch The Other Boleyn Girl(2008). And for a glamorous, torrid historical fiction television series, watch The Tudors, available on Netflix– Anne’s story begins in Season 1 and takes center stage in Season 2.

Friday, October 16
Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda – Starring Elza van den Heever, Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, Joshua Hopkins, and Matthew Rose, conducted by Maurizio Benini. From January 19, 2013.

This second installment in the trilogy centers on the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. The vocal duel in the (fictional) confrontation between the two protagonists at the end of Act I is especially spectacular, brimming with vocal fireworks that showcase the female voice in all its splendor. But it is so intense in the hurling of musical insults that at the premiere’s rehearsal, the interpreter of Elizabeth’s role took them personally, and physically attacked the singer playing Maria Stuarda, unleashing a violent fight between them. The opera’s libretto is based on Friedrich Schiller’s historical play Mary Stuart. As Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart has been a captivating subject for literature and cinema. A list of 47 books inspired by Mary Stuart is available on Goodreads. The great Katharine Hepburn portrayed her in Mary of Scotland (1936), while the TV series Reign (2013-2017), available on Netflix, brought contemporary touches to her character and life. A recent film about her life, Mary, Queen of Scots, was released in 2018 and features Saoirse Ronan as Mary.

Saturday, October 17
Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux – Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, El?na Garan?a, Matthew Polenzani, and Mariusz Kwiecie?, conducted by Maurizio Benini. From April 16, 2016.

The third in the Tudor Queens series and the culmination of dramatic intensity in the trilogy. Based on the play Elisabeth d’Angleterre (Elizabeth of England) by François Ancelot and on Historie secrète des amours d’Elisabeth et du comte d’Essex (The Secret Love Story of Elizabeth and the Count of Essex) by Jacques Lescéne des Maisons, the opera is a fictionalized version of the aging queen’s impossible love for Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex, who served at her court. 

Sunday, October 18
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale – Starring Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecie?, and John Del Carlo, conducted by James Levine. From November 13, 2010.

An old man marries an intelligent young woman who outsmarts him in this comedy that features a bass in its title role! Considered Donizetti’s comedic masterpiece, this opera was an immediate success and has remained one of the most popular Italian comic operas.

Top Bigstock photo: Monument of Gaetano Donizetti in Bergamo Italy

About Maria-Cristina Necula (58 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes the newly-released "The Don Carlos Enigma: Variations of Historical Fictions," "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives," and three poetry collections. Her articles and interviews have appeared in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." As a classically-trained singer she has performed in the New York City area at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, and UCLA Southland. She speaks six languages, two of which she honed at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and she holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center. Discover more about her work at www.mariacristinanecula.com.