Opera Warhorses

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In Quest of Donizetti – A 2008-09 Itinerary

January 22nd, 2008

As noted in my post, “In Quest of Donizetti – A 2007-08 Itinerary”, whose hyperlink may be found below,  it is now over 50 years since the Donizetti Revival, the re-evaluation of the works of bel canto composer, Gaetano Donizetti, began. A number of famous artists contributed to that revival – Maria Callas (an early advocate for “Anna Bolena”), and later  Montserrat Caballe, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti, with the star power to encourage both modern day performances and to assure  new audiences for Donizetti’s body of works.

But there  is one singer above all, Leyla Gencer,  for which the term  “Donizetti Revival” is  most often associated.  And, as noted  on this website, Gencer  never sang a Donizetti role (nor any bel canto operatic role) before  her appearance  at  San Francisco Opera in Fall, 1957 in the title role of “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

Last summer on  this web-page, I  proposed that to honor the 50th anniversary of Gencer’s first “Lucia”,  I would begin a sojourn to sample the contemporary performances of Donizetti operas in various opera houses. Since then, I traveled to Europe to visit his home town of Bergamo, with its small Donizetti museum, to visit sites of homage to the great composer throughout that town’s Alta Citta  and to  peruse the displays of Donizetti memorabilia in the La Scala Opera House in Milan. 

I also attended triumphant performances of “L’Elisir d’Amore” at the Opera National  de Paris and of “La Fille du Regiment” at Houston Grand Opera, as well as a  disastrous performance of “Don Pasquale” at Zurich Opera.

Over the next year, it will be possible to see a half dozen of his major works without leaving the United States.   Below is  a   list of performances that I would recommend.   I expect to attend and review at least one each of the performances listed.   I even have  scheduled a performance of an opera by Donizetti’s erstwhile rival, Vincenzo Bellini.

Mary Queen of Scots – Maria Stuarda (Donizetti), San Diego Opera, February 16, 19, 22, 24, 2008  

Even though “docu-operas”, operatic works about  historic and contemporary personages, are associated with late 20th and early 21st century opera, this is  a 19th century precursor. Based on Friedrich Schiller’s stirring play about Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,  a man who would be King (England, Scotland, whatever crown  he might marry into), it was unalike any other subject matter ever  chosen for the operatic stage.   

Donizetti saw the opportunities to display passionate drama of a kind not ever seen  on the operatic stage  by setting to music Schiller’s  confrontation between the   two queens.   Confrontation meant for the stage spilled over into real life. Passions ran so high that Donizetti had to deal with a physical brawl at the opera’s rehearsals between the two divas playing the two queens.   This caused the censors to take another look at the opera,  and they  then  refused to let the opera be performed at all, an indication of how far ahead of its time this opera was.  Only  in the past   few decades  have  we begun to appreciate what a work of genius “Maria Stuarda” is.

One of the brilliant promotional moves as the Donizetti revival took steam in the 1970s was the decision of the New York City Opera to package “Anna Bolena”, “Maria Stuarda” and “Roberto Devereux” as a Tudor Trilogy, with the star power of Beverly Sills enlisted to assure that the Trilogy would be wildly successful.

But, of course, Donizetti, who, indeed was drawn to the highly dramatic situations in which Henry VIII and his female relatives (wives, daughters and niece Mary Stuart) managed to entangle themselves, composed three separate operas, rather than a Trilogy, and each opera has its own extraordinary merit. The effect of “Stuarda’s” final scena is always breathtaking. And the second act confrontation between the two women principals (playing the Virgin Queen and her Catholic cousin) can be electrifying.

We are all mourning Beverly Sills, and many of us who will travel to San Diego to hear one of her most famous roles will recall that Sills chose the San Diego Opera as the site for her farewell to opera (as Adele in series of performances of Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” also starring Dame Joan Sutherland). Even though arrangements for the 2008 performances were made years before Sills’ death, San Diego will be mounting Sills’ own 35 year old sets, that were designed by Ming Cho Lee. It is as if San Diego has planned for these performances to be a special tribute to her.

Andrew Sinclair will direct and Edoardo Miller conduct the young cast – Angela Gilbert (Mary Stuart), Kate Aldrich (Eliizabeth I), Yegishe Manucharyan (Leicester) and Reinhard Hagen (Talbot).

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: Jaho, Aldrich Triumph in San Diego “Maria Stuarda” – February 16, 2008

I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Bellini), Pittsburgh Opera, May 3, 6, 9, 11, 2008 Thor Steingraber produced a modern dress version of Bellini’s “Capuleti” for the Los Angeles Opera in 1999, for Laura Claycomb (Giulietta) and Susanne Mentzer (Romeo). Claycomb is repeating her famous interpretation of the role in the Steingraber concept at the Pittsburgh Opera this coming Spring. Claycomb’s Romeo is scheduled to be Vivica Genaux, with Arthur Espiritu (Tybalt) and David Pittsinger (Capulet).

In November, 2007, Claycomb was a spectacular Marie in the Houston Grand Opera performances of Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment”.  After her Texas gig, her subsequent scheduled appearances are at the Opera National de Paris, the Pittsburgh “Capuleti” marking her return to the United States.

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: Beautiful Singing in Bellini’s “Capuleti”: Pittsburgh Opera – May 3, 2008

Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti), San Francisco Opera, June 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, July 2, 5, 2008 Originally announced as a collaboration with the New York Metropolitan Opera for a new Mary Zimmerman production, San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley elected instead to withdraw from the Met collaboration, explaining that the technical differences between Met and S. F. stages made the project unworkable within the budget allocated to it.

Instead, Gockley secured the 1996 production of “Lucia” staged by the team of Graham Vick and Paul Brown (the creators of S. F. Opera’s new 2007 production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser”), for the Teatro de Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.

Natalie Dessay and Giuseppe Filianoti debut at San Francisco as Lucia and Edgardo, along with conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce. Gabrielle Viviani will be Enrico and Oren Gradus (who has performed in the Vick production before) will be Raimondo.

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: Dessay’s Lucia di Lammermoor Delights in San Francisco – June 29, 2008

L’Elisir d’Amore (Donizetti), San Francisco Opera, October 29, November 2 (m), 4, 7, 12, 15, 2008  This new production is a collaboration between Opera Colorado (Denver), Boston Lyric Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Fort Worth Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre (Detroit), and has already been seen in some of the collaborating cities. James Robinson is director, Allen Moyer Set Designer and Martin Pakiedinaz is Costume Designer.

The production provides an opportunity for Ramon Vargas to appear in San Francisco for the first time in almost a decade in one of his signature roles, Nemorino, and for three S. F. Opera debuts: Inva Mula (Adina), Giorgio Caoduro (Belcore) and Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara). Bruno Campanella conducts.

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: Vargas Shines Bright in Stellar S. F. “L’Elisir d’Amore” – November 9, 2008

and see also: Family Matinee “Elixir of Love” at S. F. Opera – November 8, 2008

Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) Washington National Opera, November 1, 5, 7, 9 (m), 11, 15, 17, 2008 Renee Fleming (November 1, 5, 9 and 11) and Sondra Radvanovsky (November 7, 15, 17) split the responsibility for the title role character in this opera whose popularity surged in the 1970s as a vehicle for Sills, Sutherland, Caballe and Gencer.

Giuseppe Filianoti takes on the role of Gennaro, Ruggero Raimondi is Don Alfonso and Kate Aldrich is assigned the plum role of Maffio Orsini, and with that assignment, a famous show-stopping aria. Placido Domingo conducts.  That this is a new production with a stellar cast and Domingo’s personal sponsorship, suggests that this fascinating opera will have a new lease on life in the United States.

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Radvanovsky, Grigolo in Pascoe’s WNO “Lucrezia Borgia” – November 17, 2008

Roberto Devereux (Donizetti), Dallas Opera, January 23, 25, 28, 31, 2009 Another docu-opera about Elizabeth I’s court, this one about the Earl of Leicester’s stepson and protege, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.  That Devereux’s intrigues led to his beheading, while Leicester did all the things he did and died a natural death, makes one appreciate how skilful Leicester was at reading the Virgin Queen.

The Dallas production will star Hasmik Papian as Elisabetta, Stephen Costello as Roberto, and David Kempster as Nottingham. The team of Benoit Dugardyn (sets) and Stephen Lawless (direction), who produced Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” for Dallas in January 2007, return for this production.  (A review of the Lawless-Dugardyn production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”, seen at San Diego Opera in April 2007, may be found on this website.)

For the subsequent review of this performance, see: The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Papian, Costello in Lawless’ Dallas “Devereux” – January 23, 2009

For the previous post on this subject, see: In Quest of Donizetti – A 2007-08 Itinerary

Tags: Quests and Anticipations