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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Enrico di Borgogna. Opera semiseria in two acts (1818)
Enrico, Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo-soprano); Pietro, Francesco Castoro (bass); Elisa, Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano); Guido, Levy Sekgapane (tenor); Gilberto, Luca Tittoto (bass); Brunone, Lorenzo Barbieri (baritone); Nicola, Matteo Mezzaro (tenor); Geltrude, Federica Vitali (soprano)
Coro Donizetti Opera
Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. live, 23-25 November 2018, Festival Donizetti, Teatro Sociale, Bergamo, Italy
Stage director, Silvia Paoli. Set Designer, Andrea Belli. Costume Designer, Valarea Donata Bettella. Lighting designer, Flammetta Baldiserri.
Video Director, Rino Trasi
PCM Stereo 2.0/DTS-Master Audio 5.1
Sung in Italian. Subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
Notes and Synopsis in Italian and English
DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57833 [160 mins]

Donizetti was born one of six children in the provincial town of Bergamo on 29th November 1797 to parents in poor economic circumstances. However, when he showed some aptitude for music, his father enrolled him to study in the local Musical Institute in Bergamo (The Bel Canto Operas. Charles Osborne, Methuen 1994). It was there that by one of the most significant accidents of musical and operatic history he came under the tutelage of Johann Simon Mayr, a teacher and distinguished composer with a number of successful operatic works to his name. Throughout his life, Donizetti never failed to acknowledge his good fortune in respect of that contact. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the coming together of teacher and pupil came to define Italian opera throughout the century and after.

Donizetti’s first opera, Il Pigmalione, a one act comedy, was composed by a nineteen-year-old Donizetti while he was Mayr’s student; it was not performed in the composer’s lifetime (Osborne ibid pp 140-141). Enrico di Borgogna was Donizetti’s third opera but the first to be staged; it was premiered on 14th November 1818 at the Teatro San Luca, Venice, two weeks before the composer’s 21st birthday. Its libretto was by Bartolomeo Merelli, who later to become supremo at La Scala where he gave Verdi his first commissions. Meanwhile, with Mayr’s support, the young Donizetti went to Bologna to study with the renowned Padre Mattei who had tutored Rossini. (William Ashbrook. Donizetti and his Operas, Cambridge University Press 1982 pp10-11).

The plot of Enrico di Borgogna involves the exiled Enrico, son of the murdered Count, trying to prevent Guido, son of his father’s murderer, succeeding to the title and marrying Elisa, beloved of Enrico. The premiere was not without its unintended drama when the prima donna, Adelaide Catalani, who was appearing on the operatic stage for the first time, fainted from stage fright at the end of Act One, which necessitated the omission of some of her music in Act Two and her replacement in the finale by another singer. Nonetheless, the work was well received by the audience and the composer was saluted on stage at the end of the performance. The opera received further performances once the soprano had fully recovered. However, the accompanying booklet suggests that after the Venice performances the work was never staged again and the autograph was lost. Fortunately, two manuscript copies survived, both probably originating from Bologna, and circumstance has filled the gap in the Paris version; the result is as it is heard here in the Critical Revision by Anders Wiklund in 2018.

Given all the circumstances of its writing, the composition has echoes of Rossini whose fifth opera seria for Naples was staged on December 3rd 1818 and whose lighter compositions, particularly Il Barbiere di Siviglia had taken the Italian operatic world by storm and whose influence can be heard without being dominant. The cast in this performance is dominated by the mature figure of the vastly experienced high mezzo Sonia Ganassi and the lower voice of Anna Bonitatibus in the eponymous trouser-role. They spark of each other in an altogether delightful manner, in both acting and singing (CHs. 37-39). As the would-be usurper Guido, the tenor Levy Sekgapane is a revelation as a potentially great coloratura voice; not yet perfect, but with high notes and good acting to back up his interpretive skills. As a notable actor, to match his baritone voice, garish costume and hairstyle, Luca Tittolo is both realistic and personable.

The performance is staged in the delightful period theatre at Bergamo, home to the annual Donizetti celebration, of which this is part, as was the recently published performance of Il Castello Di Kenilworth (review). Musically, the period instruments of Academia Montis Regalis, under the secure baton of Alessandro De Marchi, hold the whole together admirably, while the design of a stage within a stage allows for complex incidents to be seen via both the small rotating stage and the off-stage sides. The Coro Donizetti Opera provides vibrant support as required, as only Italian forces in their own language seem able to do.

Robert J Farr

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