Small picture of Donizetti




Donizetti's I pazzi per progetto

Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, March 2 - 9, 2015

Photographs by Clive Barda, courtesy of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama


Donizetti's 1830 opera was paired in a double bill with Malcolm Arnold’s The Dancing Master. Stephen Pritchard in (The Observer, March 8, 2015) felt it was let down by the staging that inhibited fluid movement so essential in farce, while Erica Jeal (The Guardian, March 3) also thought that the production fell short although she liked the piano player being on stage as part of the asylum's inhabitants and generally enjoyed the performance. Both were impressed by soprano Alison Langer. Charlotte Valori (Bachtrack, March 4, 2015) spread the praise more generally over the cast and summed up that "It may not be Donizetti’s best work, but this cast makes their exuberant best of it, and musically there is much to enjoy, even if it’s all rather bonkers".

Alan Jackson, the Society treasurer, saw the March 2 performance and has provided the following.

Donizetti’s one act comedy is a strange piece for a modern audience. Set in a lunatic asylum (updated here to an Institute of Psychiatry, perhaps around 1960) most of the leading characters either pretend to be crazy or are passed off as crazy in order to further their love interests and enquiries. It is hardly politically correct. It ends with the prima donna reminding all women that they are born to command, not serve and so it is also a feminist tract - of sorts. I enjoyed this performance by (mainly) second year students on the Guildhall’s Opera Course immensely, even if I felt a bit guilty for doing so. Still, the comedy was kept within bounds and sensitively handled.

In addition to the singers there were four on-stage patients who reacted subtly but very amusingly to the goings-on, one of whom (repetiteur Valeria Racco) played the continuo for the recitatives on an on-stage piano – giving scope for a couple of humorous gags that were all the funnier for not being repeated too often.

The singers were excellent: David Shipley as Darlemont, the Director of the  Institute, David Ireland as the orderly Frank, Emma Kerr as Cristina the ward of Milan Siljanov’s Venanzio (who wants to steal Cristina’s inheritance and so tries to pass off Cristina as mad), Martin Hässler as Don Eustachio a trumpeter on the run from the army who is wants to pass himself off as a doctor, and Szymon Wach as Colonel Blinval who recognises Don Eustachio and is the husband of Norina. The main plot line concerns Blinval and Norina who have been separated and need to test each other’s feelings for each other by pretending to be mad and of course (this is a comedy) get back together at the end. After a slightly hesitant start Alison Langer rose superbly to the remainder of her prima donna role as Norina, which ends with the aria “Piacer sì… nuovo e grato …. Donne care qui fra noi”. This is a showpiece that could be investigated by coloratura sopranos looking out for a little-known aria to sing in recital. Despite Pazzi dating from 1830 this aria harks back to the Rossini of La cambiale di matrimonio, but I think it none the worse for that. Langer’s decorations to the cabaletta repeat were school of Estelle Liebling who wrote countless cadenzas and variants for coloratura soprano arias. Those for Rosina in Il barbiere are now thought by some scholars to be rather unstylish, so Langer’s were perhaps naughty, but very definitely nice.

There was enjoyable orchestral playing from the student orchestra, admirably conducted by Dominic Wheeler. These young singers have voices that are still developing. Their stagecraft is already highly accomplished and the excellent production was directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans. The simple but effective set, a padded room with two doors and an observation window, was by Yannis Thavoris and the lighting by Richard Howell. All in all, a lovely performance, carrying on the Guildhall’s Donizetti traditions and standards of Rita (2011) and Francesca di Foix (2013).


The Team

Norina - Alison Langer / Laura Ruhi-Vidal

Blinval - Szymon Wach

Don Eustachio - Martin Haessler / Rick Zwart

Cristina - Emma Kerr / Ailsa Mainwaring

Darlemont - David Shipley

Frank - David Ireland

Venanzio - Milan Siljanov


Conductor - Dominic Wheeler

Director - Martin Lloyd-Evans

Designer - Yannis Thavoris

Lighting - Richard Howell


Blinval (Szymon Wach) and Frank (David Ireland)



Norina (Alison Langer)



Blinval (Szymon Wach) and Don Eustachio (Rick Zwart)



Don Eustachio (Rick Zwart) and Cristina (Ailsa Mainwaring)