Seattle Opera is about to close our production of Donizetti’s great tragedy, Lucia di Lammermoor, and pivot to an earlier Donizetti comedy, Viva la Mamma! Written in 1827 and revised in 1831, four years before Lucia, Viva la Mamma! is a ridiculous farce in the tradition of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, which is coming up next on the Seattle Opera mainstage. Viva la Mamma! pokes fun at nineteenth-century Italian opera. Its original title, Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, can’t be translated; convenienze refers to conventional rules relating to the ranking of singers (primo, secondo, comprimario) and the number of scenes, arias, etc., that they were entitled to expect. The inconvenienze (“inconveniences”) include a madly tempermental Prima Donna who refuses to rehearse, her pushy husband, an insecure German tenor who can’t master the Italian language, and an overbearing stage mother. Our cameras are down at Viva la Mamma! rehearsal right now, and soon we’ll have a peek at this delightful production ready for you. But for today, I wanted to give you a few TV Guide-style blurbs for other Donizetti operas you may know, and some you may not know:
The Elixir of Love (1832): Dopey Nemorino (tenor), desperate to win the heart of sassy Adina (soprano) away from the obnoxious Captain Belcore (braggart baritone), buys a magic love potion from the quack Doctor Dulcamara (bass). It turns out to be cheap red wine, but at least that gets Nemorino’s courage up, and Adina discovers she truly loves him.
The Daughter of the Regiment (1840): Tomboy Marie (soprano) is taken away from the regiment that has raised her, including the gruff Sulpice (bass) and her sweetheart Tonio (tenor with 9 high Cs), so that the snooty Marquise de Birkenfeld (mezzo) can make a lady of her. A last-minute switched-baby revelation saves the day.
Don Pasquale (1843): A vast practical joke attempts to teach Don Pasquale (bass) that old men shouldn’t marry young wives; but the jokers (the sly Dr. Malatesta, used-car salesman baritone; Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto, lovesick tenor; and his girlfriend Norina, abusive soprano) learn a lesson or two along the way.
Rita (1841): Another delightful comedy about domestic violence. Rita (soprano), who runs an inn, routinely beats her wimpy husband, Beppe (tenor), who is desperate to be free of her. But when Rita’s former husband, Gasparo (baritone), comes back from the dead and the two men get in a competition to determine which of them has to stay married to the ghastly Rita, Beppe realizes he truly loves his wife.
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835): Lucia (soprano) is driven to madness when her brother Enrico (baritone), tells her that her boyfriend Edgardo (tenor) is unfaithful, and forces her into a political marriage. Who shows up at the wedding? The annoyed Edgardo, of course; Lucia flips out and kills her new husband, and she and Edgardo both die.
Anna Bolena (1830): King Henry VIII (bass) has broken with Catholicism and set up the Anglican Church in order to dump his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn (soprano). But now he’s bored of her and wants the hot Jane Seymour (mezzo). Follow the intrigue as Henry conspires to frame Anne for adultery while she insists on dying with a clear conscience.
The Chemist’s Bell (1836): Enrico is dejected because the love of his life, Serafina, has married Don Annibale, the old coot that runs the neighborhood drugstore. There’s a local law that says the pharmacist HAS TO answer his door no matter what the time, so Enrico doesn’t let the pair go to sleep on their wedding night, exhausting a wardrobe full of disguises and a zillion prescriptions to keep the pharmacist away from his wedding-bed.
The Tutor in Trouble (1826): Poor young Pipetto—his father hates women so much he has raised his son without ever letting the boy meet a woman. Little wonder, then, that Pipetto should fall in love with the first female he meets, the ancient cleaning-lady Leonarda. But when the girl next door gets a whiff of what’s going on, she has a few choice words with Pipetto’s dad.
Semi-Seria (Serious Opera with Happy Endings)
The Exile from Rome (1828): When Murena, an ancient Roman slave-trader, finds out his daughter’s boyfriend Settimio is a Christian, he has the boy thrown to the lions. But one of the lions recognizes Settimio as an old friend and a fellow Christian, so all ends happily.
The Madman on the Island of San Domingo (1833): Cardenio, the Madman on the Caribbean island of San Domingo, suspects his wife of infidelity. He tries to kill her, tries to kill himself, and finally suggests they kill each other. Her willingness to do so restores his reason.
Linda di Chamounix (1842): Another mad lady bel canto opera. Linda goes nuts when someone tells her her boyfriend Carlo was marrying someone else, but Carlo restores Linda’s sanity by singing her the melody of their love duet.
Donizetti’s History of the British Crown
A four-part mini-series filled with romance, adventure, espionage, and lengthy coloratura arias! In addition to Anna Bolena, Donizetti also wrote:
Il castello di Kenilworth (1829): Henry’s daughter by Anne, Queen Elizabeth, is not as lucky at love as her father (with his eight wives): she has her heart set on Leicester, who is secretly married. Bess, however, is more good-natured than her dad; she lets the young lovers go their way.
Maria Stuarda (1834): But when she catches Leicester fooling around with her Scottish cousin Mary (pretender to the English throne) Queen Elizabeth is less clement: she has Mary executed and forces Leicester to watch.
Roberto Devereux (1837): The hapless Elizabeth loses her heart again, this time to a French traitor who’s secretly in love with the wife of a minister. But Elizabeth’s minions at the Tower of London work too fast for her to be able to save Robert, and in the end she renounces her crown.
Gabriella di Vergy (1826): The gruesome saga of Gabriella, whose husband Fayel locks her up, kills Raoul, her lover, and brings her Raoul’s heart, still warm, in a pewter urn, whereupon she dies from the shock.
Gemma di Vergy (1834): No relation to Gabriella. Gemma’s husband dumps her for a new wife who will be less barren, so Gemma has her lovesick Arab slave Tamas stab the two-timing jerk at his wedding. But Tamas stabs himself, too, and Gemma ends up longing for death.
Lucrezia Borgia (1833): At the Borgia “orgia”, or orgy, Lucrezia’s endless supply of poisons, antidotes, and phony Romeo-and-Juliet style poisons, combined with a trousers role and last-minute baby-switcheroo revelations, causes great confusion and tragedy.
Marino Faliero (1835): Conspiracy and (well-founded) slander brings down an old Venetian Doge, his wife, and her lover (his nephew).
Poliuto (1840): More Christian martyrdom in ancient Rome, this time without the merciful lions.
La favorite (1840): Monk becomes war hero in order to be worthy of his true love, except she’s been the king’s mistress and so no one will take him seriously. He returns to the monastic life and she dies in his arms.
Maria di Rohan (1843): A suspenseful story of a jealous husband’s revenge, set in Richelieu’s Paris.
Dom Sébastien (1845): Portugal and Spain fight for control of Africa, while the Inquisition and a beautiful Moorish princess (and her jealous lover), plus the fact that no one will believe he didn’t really die in battle, complicate life for the war hero Dom Sébastien.