Small picture of Donizetti






How can one not love him?

Opera Magazine Editorial, June 2015

by John Allison (Opera Magazine Editor)


Opera Magazine ( June 2015) carried a very positive editorial on Donizetti and have kindly given us permission to reproduce it. It relates how Donizetti's reputation and performances of his operas continue to go from strength to strength, the key objective of the Society since its founding.


How can one not love him?

By wonderful accident or good design, opera-lovers this month have an unprecedented opportunity to compare Poliuto and Les Martyrs, Donizetti’s Italian work and expanded French grand opéra on the same subject of Christian martyrdom. The first complete studio recording of Les Martyrs has just been released by Opera Rara (see our Disc of the Month, pp. 788-91, for Max Loppert’s review), and audiences at Glyndebourne are currently enjoying the first professional British staging of Poliuto, which plays throughout June (review next month). The intertwined histories of these operas add up to a tale of two great operatic cities, Naples and Paris—not unconnectedly, Donizetti’s two main powerbases.

Such a conjunction of events would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, but is now perhaps the sort of pleasant surprise we are accustomed to seeing sprung on us by what still deserves to be called the ‘Donizetti revival’. It’s a revival that has already changed the operatic landscape beyond all recognition and yet seems to be ongoing, with more performances of Donizetti than ever. The Operabase website lists 19 productions and 58 performances of the composer’s operas this month. Some of these stagings are of popular masterpieces, others are rarities (in which connection it’s worth pointing out that these figures for June do not take into account the end of English Touring Opera’s spring season, which includes both L’assedio di Calais and Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

Not bad for a composer who was all but written off 60 years ago as intellectually disreputable— cue noses turned up at melodramatic plots, oom-pah accompaniments and sopranos duetting in thirds with the flute. In an age when Wagner—a composer who wrote one opera every four years—had become god, what chance did a composer have who could write four operas in a year? Devotees of serious music in the first half of the 20th century looked back on Donizetti as an aberration of popular taste. When introducing Donizetti’s Elisabetta in our pages in 1997, the late Andrew Porter—to whom we pay affectionate tribute this month, see pp. 714-19—marvelled at the way he had witnessed Donizetti’s changing fortunes: ‘The schoolboy who had been told that he might never live to see and hear a Donizetti opera became a music critic who has now seen some 30 Donizetti operas (and on radio and record heard many more).’

One ofthe turning points was of course Callas making a speciality of Donizetti heroines at La Scala, not so much the perhaps expected Lucia of 1954 as her 1957 Anna Bolena and 1960 Paolina (Poliuto). Musicology kept pace. The pioneering books of Herbert Weinstock and William Ashbrook appeared in the mid ’60s, and indeed Porter himself played an important role, as he recalled in a New Yorker column on Dom Sébastien: ‘Among the Scribe papers in Paris I discovered an affidavit to the effect that the composer had rewritten the baritone’s principal air, “O Lisbonne”, between the dress rehearsal and the first night … The next day, I found the original air—a beautiful piece—in the baritone’s partbook.’

Donizetti needs star singers, and a new generation is providing the impetus for our latest discoveries: the American tenors Michael Fabiano and Michael Spyres are the respective driving forces behind Poliuto and Les Martyrs. But these new discoveries only confirm what Porter already knew when he paraphrased Dallapiccola on Verdi: ‘“He wept and loved for all of us”, is true also of Donizetti. Remembering Elisir, Don Pasquale and many another comedy … we can add “and laughed, too” … How can anyone not love him?’



Page last updated: June 23, 2015