My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


11.10.06
  69 Operas in 5 Genres

Composed in 25 years. Not to mention a nice collection of chamber music, a few symphonies, and a bunch of religious works (masses, requiems, etc.).

That's the output of Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). Makes even Sheila look slow. *grin*

Donizetti's first work that has come to us in complete manuscript is Enrico di Borgogna from 1818. His last opera was Dom Sébastien in 1843; the last years of his life he spent in hospital, suffering from what today is thought to have been syphilis.

Some of the operas are shorter, one act pieces (novellas or novelettes) that were played before the main opera by someone else. An evening at the theatre was a society event and general fun, a lot louder than today. And the public was more fickle than some Amazon reviewers.

But most of Donizetti's operas are full fledged novels in the 80-120K range, a few even longer. Also, he had to deal with an Italian censorship which makes the banned book lists of schools in Planet Utah look tolerant.
You couldn't kill a king in an opera, adultery was bad (both influenced fe. the libretto of Ugo Conte di Parigi), no confession scene onstage (which caused troubles for Maria Stuarda), and you could never know what else the censors might come up with.

His genres were:
  • farsa - the shorter pieces I mentioned, of lighthearted content (with an exception, Elvida is a short opera but rather dramatic albeit with happy end)
  • opera buffa - operas with strong humorous elements, though lyrical love is also ok (L'elisir d'amore, Don Pasquale)
  • opera semiseria - operas with a dramatic main plot and humorous subplot/characters, happy end (Linda di Chamonix, Gli esiliati di Siberia)
  • opera seria - the main corpus of Donizett's work, operas with lots of drama, betrayal, unrequited love and usually at least one dead character at the end, his best known is Lucia di Lammermoor (a few have a deus-ex-machina sort of happy ending after all the drama, like L'esule di Roma)
  • grande opéra - operas with drama and unhappy endings that follow the special conditions of the Opéra in Paris, fe. they must include a ballett (Dom Sébastien)


  • Donizetti also rewrote some Italian operas for Paris or the other way round (La Favorita).

    Composers were badly paid (does that sound familiar?) and had almost no copyright protection. To make a living as composer, most of them had to write more than they felt up to (Verdi would later call the times when was obliged to come up with at least one opera a year as his 'galley slave years'). Donizetti doesn't seem to have had problems with the high output but as we've seen, it took its toll later in his life.

    Many composers are forgotten today, their work gathering dust in archives and seldom being revived (like Callas did for Cherubini's Medea). Some, like Donizetti, managed to write a few operas that became so popular they were restaged (usually an opera played only one season in Italy) and still have their place in the theatres today. Rossini is another of those who has a way larger backlist than the popular Il Barbiere di Seviglia.

    In case of Donizetti it was mostly the opere buffe L'elisir d'amore and Don Pasquale, as well as the opera seria Lucia di Lammermoor that survived. Maria Callas already dug out Anna Bolena, an opera seria with lots of coloratura singing and great drama that would let her shine as singer/actress. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer revived Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux and Belisario, and thus since the 60ies there was some interest in the unknown Donizetti. In the 80ies, Edita Gruberova staged Roberto Devereux and Linda di Chamonix (both were shown in German TV). The interest long concentrated on the later, more mature works of the composer, but recently, his early operas have gained some interest as well, not at least as examples for the development of the Italian opera scene spread over several towns in the early 19th century (Naples, Milan, Venice, Rome, etc.).

    More than half of his oeuvre is avaliable on CD today (some thanks to Opera Rara who have recorded, among others, the early Elvida and Gabriella di Vergy). I now have 24 and I'm going to get my hands on everything I can find, except the above named farsa ones.

    Next time: fun for our Edward fans: L'assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais - ok, it's Edward III but still an interesting opera)
     
    Comments:
    Your writing comparison is well taken!
     
    Thank you.
    Those two creative endeavours have quite a few things in common. INcluding the fact that some Wagner fans consider his operas as True Art (aka Literature) and look down on people who listen to Donizetti's genre stuff. :)
     
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    The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

    All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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    I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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