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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)
The Young Donizetti

L'Ajo Nell'Imbarazzo (1824)
Alfredo Il Grande (1823)
Act I: Cavatina, Non e di morte il fulmine. (Bruce Ford)
Pietro Il Grande, Kzar Delle Russie (1819)
Act II: Sextet, Ah qual colpo, oh del, qual fremito. (Russell Smythe, Susan Bickley, Marilyn Hill Smith
Myrna Moreno, Kevin John, Jonathan Best)
Enrico di Borgogna (1818)
Act I: Recitative and Cavatina, Elisa! Elisa! Oh! me infelice Care aurette che spiegate (Della Jones)
Zoraida di Granata (1822)
Act I: Finale, 'Qual tradimento e questo!. Ah! Ch’io provo di smanie, d'affetti (Bruce Ford, Majella Cullagh, Paul Austin Kelly, Cristina Pastorello, Dominic Natoli, Matthew Hargreaves)
Chiara e Serafina - ossia - I Pirati (1822)
Act II: Trio, Tremante, smarrito.(Yvonne Kenny, Lynne Davies, Della Jones)
Zoraida di Granata (1824)
Act I: Cavatina, Era mia... mi amo... l'amai....Che mi giovo l'alloro (Diana Montague, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir)
Le Nozze in Villa (1821)
Act II: Trio, In lei vegg'io l'oggett. (Diana Montague, Paul Nilon, Jonathan Viera)
Gabriella di Vergy (1826)
Act II: Aria, Perche non chiusi al di? (Eiddwen Harrhy)
Elvida (1826)
Duet, Se geme a’ tuoi lai (Jennifer Larmore, Annick Massis)
La Zingara (1822)
Act I: Cavatina, A te nell'appressarmi. (Bruce Ford)
L'eremitaggio di Liwerpool (1828)
Act II: Rondo Finale, Confusa e l'alma mia....Non intende il mio contento.(Yvonne Kenny, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir)
Philharmonia Orchestra; Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductors: David Parry, Alun Francis, Antonello Allemandi
OPERA RARA ORR 229 [78.27]

Over the years Opera Rara has contributed more than any other label in recording, either complete or as part of various anthologies, a significant number of the sixty to seventy of Donizetti’s operatic works. My only regret about their list of complete Donizetti operas is that only one has merited a highlights issue. That is Rosmondo D’Inghilterra featuring Renée Fleming as Rosmondo. It includes extensive extracts of her delectable singing (ORR 214). However, Donizetti arias, ensembles and overtures have featured in a number of single disc issues from the company. These include their series ‘A Hundred Years of Italian Opera’ and recitals by house singers such as Della Jones (ORR 203). Spread as they are over several CDs it is not really feasible for the opera enthusiast to get a feel for the evolution of the composer’s style from these diverse sources. This compilation allows for just that in the same way that Opera Rara’s recent issues titled ‘Meyerbeer in Italy’ (ORR 222) and ‘Mercandante Rediscovered’ (ORR 226) have done.

Just how many operas Donizetti wrote is open to interpretation and even dispute. The invaluable ‘Masters of Italian Opera’ from New Grove lists 67 titles. Some existed in more than one edition or revision with significant musical alterations or additions. What is certain is that it wasn’t until Anna Bolena in 1830 that Donizetti achieved European recognition and a measure of economic security. Prior to that he had written 29 operatic works, often at a rate of three or four each year. In the brief booklet essay the influence of Simone Mayr on the composer’s career is mentioned but nothing of the background that moulded Donizetti’s character and music.

Born in Bergamo, Italy, Gaetano was the fifth of six children of parents living in considerable poverty. He came under the influence and patronage of the composer Simone Mayr, who lived in the town. Mayr had persuaded a local charitable institution to open a free musical school, primarily to train choirboys, but also to impart a well-grounded musical education. On its opening in 1808, the young Gaetano was one of its first pupils, attending until 1814. He won many prizes and, being a high-spirited student, several reprimands also! Mayr, believing that the young Donizetti’s horizons needed expanding, paid for his transfer to Bologna where he studied counterpoint. In late 1817, Donizetti returned to Bergamo and with Mayr's help landed a contract to compose four operas for Venice. His first real success came in Rome in 1822, again following an opportunity afforded by Mayr who turned over his own contract to his pupil. This success was quickly followed by operas for Naples and other Italian cities.

This issue features extracts from Donizetti’s first publicly performed, but third operatic work, Enrico di Borgogna (tr. 4) of 1818, through to his seventeenth Gabriella di Vergy of 1826. As the brief booklet note points out, that although the young composer had to write in the prevailing manner he was manifestly eager to break out from that milieu. I regret that Opera Rara has not facilitated easy appreciation of Donizetti’s development by putting the extracts in chronological sequence of composition. I would also have liked the Act 1 cavatina from Zoraida (tr. 7) to precede the Act 1 finale (tr. 5). I suspect the reason for the track sequences as set out is to split ensemble and duet selections with solo items.

As to performance, Opera Rara hasn’t always been able to cast the likes of Renée Fleming in its recordings. However, throughout its twenty odd years of existence, it has built up and used a formidable list of house singers. Outstanding is the vibrant mezzo voice of Della Jones in Elisa! Elisa! Oh! me infelice from Enrico di Borgogna (tr. 4) and the contributions of Diana Montague as soloist in Era mia from Zoraida (tr. 7) and in ensemble. It is a joy also to hear Yvonne Kenny’s high secure soprano in the trio from Chiara e Serafina (tr. 6) and in the 1828 variant of Emelia di Liverpool (tr. 12) and where the spelling became ‘Liwerpool’. The accurate and wide-ranging tenor Bruce Ford is heard in two solos (trs. 3 and 11). All these are considerable singers bringing their artistry to lesser works of a great composer learning his craft in a highly competitive Italy.

Although the individual dates are not given, the recordings are of a very high and uniform standard. This is a significant achievement given that I know the recording dates and venues to be diverse and well spread. The booklet, whilst giving no words or translations, does provide a plot summary and details of the compositional circumstances for each of the operas concerned.

This CD should be on the shelves of ever lover of Donizetti’s works and Italian opera in general. It provides a unique opportunity of hearing, on one disc, the development of Donizetti’s style in his early works and career. Highly recommended.

Robert J. Farr


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