Small picture of Donizetti



Madame Stoltz reconsidered

Riveduta maybe?


Alexander Weatherson

Donizetti Society Newsletter 116, June 2012, pp. 9-11.


That their relations began badly, and ended worse, we all know, but there was hope even for Rosine Stoltz. Or so it would seem. After Donizetti had pronounced in 1840 that the key role of Hélène in Le Duc d’Albe was in no way suitable for her voice, there was a seismic shift worthy of any operatic Richter scale. His views momentarily turned upside down in nothing less than a monstrous U turn. Moreover, from the evidence of his letters we find that this was not the only opera he was ready to tailor to her perfectly unbearable gifts. She was a mezzo-soprano of great vocal ability, beautiful and talented and had a remarkable scenic allure. All these things, Donizetti was ready to concede. In every other respect she was detestable.

The change of tack is truly extraordinary. At the end of December 1841[i] he could be writing to Michele Accursi "Non far perdio che io entri in un imbroglio con dar la parte alla Stoltz – Nò, per dio, la musica fatta non ci sta, ed io non voglio sagrificar un’opera pel gusto di essere agreable a"

 Image taken from

But the wind was to change: only four weeks later, at the end of January 1842, he would be dashing off anew to Accursi in his breathless mixture of Italian and French [ii] "Anch’io son d’avviso che nel Duca d’Alba vi è qualche modificazione a fare, un po’ meno potente la cospirazione, un poco più caldo l’amore; del resto io avrei immaginato dover riuscire di grand’effetto: avevo sopra tutto carezzato il rôle della donna; rôle nuovo forse in teatro, rôle di azione, mentre quasi sempre la donna è passiva.  Qui, giovane entusiasta, amante, una Giovanna d’Arco. E io imaginava che Mad.Stoltz vi sarebbe stata ammirabile, perchè vi sono molte e molte situazioni che mi sembrano avermi ispirato, e son certo che più bel rôle di donna e più nuovo non l’ho mai avuto.  Infine che un uomo odiato da tutti, da tutti fuggito, a cui non rimane che una sola esperanza, un solo affetto, l’amor del figlio che deve  consolarlo etc etc., discenda fino alla bassezza per sentirsi chiamar Padre, mi pare teatrale e drammatico.  Le nom de Père dans la bouche de son fils, pour lui c’est une consolation nouvelle, c’est la preuve que le cœur lui reviendra aussi; del resto ne parleremo con Pillet e Scribe e decideremo"” Without a pause adding the following lines to this unprecedented volte face:  "La Stoltz nel rôle di Antonina era Madre ma madre giovane che ispira amore; se non lo vuole prenda il simpatico rôle di Irene, a cui si adatta la nuova aria, che ho fatto per lei – bien."

Ispira amore”?  Two big blows in succession.  The second of these statements is not entirely out of the blue, we are well aware from earlier letters that Belisario had been mooted for Paris but in 1842  and with Rosine Stoltz in the role of Antonina?  Or,  even more improbably, with her singing the role of Irene and being supplied with a new aria! We know that Mechetti in Vienna published a Scena e cavatina 'Spari  dagli occhi il pianto' by Mercadante for insertion into Belisario but this is going even further into the realms of fantasy.  Has this “nuova aria” for Irene/Stoltz survived?  Did Donizetti intend that his 1836 masterpiece should appear at the Opéra?  In French?

Belisario in fact surfaced in Paris at the Théâtre-Italien on 24 October 1843 with Giulia Grisi as Antonina. And we do know that in the libretto for the first staging of Belisario at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London later in 1843 when the role of Irene was sung by Fanny Tachinardi-Persiani (far-more celebrated a Donizettian diva than Rosine Stoltz [iii] and a casting which might have included new music of this importance) that nothing of the sort is included in the printed text.  But in many of the published libretti there is in Parte  III Sc.VI a narration [iv] for Irene responding to Giustiniano and Antonina’s questioning and recounting in detail Belisario’s triumph - beginning ‘La china d’erto colle, che sovrasta al campo’- a discursive piece which could have been set or reset  - and then too there is her cavatina in the Introduzione which could have been given new music while retaining its original text. Both of which items might have been describable as a “nuova aria”. But this is pure conjecture.

As for Le Duc d’Albe. So he had changed his mind about this fabled sacred monster of the Académie royale de Musique? This maitresse-femme (“Rosy” she called herself) with its inert director and lover - the complaisant Léon Pillet she so triumphantly led on a leash.  An opera with “qualche modificazione” and with La Stoltz in the guise of a Joan of Arc?   Incredible.  That Le Duc d’Albe still remained in orbit is in itself somewhat baffling in view of the timetable.  True,  Charles de Boigne gives the following list of works on his desk for 1842-43: [v]


Dom Sébastien

Caterina Cornaro

Maria di Rohan

Don Pasquale

Gabrielle de Vergi

La Duc d’Albe

Una Farza inedita

and as these were in the recollection of a “compagnon de riz au lait” we must take them seriously, but that Rosy was capable of “più caldo l’amore” and “entusiasta” is  even less credible than that of the “rôle de azione” she was here allotted.  As for her being a source of inspiration for the “più bel rôle di donna e più nuovo non l’ho mai avuto” this is truly amazing!  Can it be possible, do you think, that he had - if very briefly - fallen for this well-turned ankle? He favoured mezzo-sopranos as we have learned to know. Did he actually ask Scribe for changes to the libretto? Or ask Pillet for “modificazione” of any kind whatsoever [vi].  This we may never be able to decide.



[i] Studi Donizettiani 1 (Bergamo 1962), Letter 85, 74

[ii] op cit Letter 88, 80

[iii]Antonina in this London edition was sung by Adelaide Moltini

[iv] In “virgolati” in the prima edition of the opera and often cut in revivals but it was sung - according to printed sources - at Firenze in 1840-41 (the “nuova aria”?)

[v] Charles de Boigne Petits mémoires de l’opéra(Paris 1857), 207

[vi]There are no detectable alterations of this kind to the autograph score




© Donizetti Society and contributors, 2004-2012