The Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) wrote around 75 operas in the 29 years from 1816 to 1845. I have seen only seven of these — five staged and two in concert performances only — but two of his operas are among those I have seen the most often over the years.
Viva la mamma (first performed 1827 in Naples) is a two-act farce about a financially-challenged Italian opera company rehearsing a new opera production at the theater in Rimini. It is also sometimes known as Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, meaning “Conventions and Inconveniences of the Stage”.
So far I have seen this opera only once, namely in Gera, Germany, in 1995. Before the performance I was given a personal tour of the theater (thanks, Peter!) and was introduced to the singer of the “Mamma”, a jovial bass-buffo named Norbert Nagerl.
Reportedly Donizetti himself was also a bass-buffo and may even have sung the role of the “Mamma” in some of the early performances of “Viva la Mamma”. Some of the funniest scenes in the opera involve the efforts of the “Mamma” to force the promotion of her diva-like daughter from second to first soprano.
Anna Bolena (1830 Milan) is about the life and death of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England. I have seen this opera twice in concert performances, first in Wiesbaden 1996, and again thirteen years later in the Old Opera concert hall in Frankfurt, 2009. The Frankfurt performance featured Elza van den Heever in the title role.
L’Elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love, 1832 Milan) is one of Donizetti’s most-often-performed operas. I have seen it nearly a dozen times in Frankfurt in a cute staging by Andrea Schwalbach, with such singers as Malin Hartelius, Oxana Arkaeva, Diana Damrau, Maria Fontosh, Ilya Levinsky, Želiko Lučić, Simon Bailey and Frauke Schäfer, to name only a few. I have also seen it one time each in Gießen, Halle, Darmstadt, Vienna (Staatsoper 2003), Paris (Bastille), Heidelberg (in the castle courtyard) and Prague (in the National Theater).
Nemorino in L’Elisir d’amore is a guy who does everything wrong but gets the girl anyway, which is more or less the story of my life up to now, so I decided that his name would be an appropriate member-name for me while I was active on the now-defunct website VirtualTourist. And I kept it later as my screen name when I started my own website.
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835 Naples) is based on a long-winded novel called The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott. It is about a young woman who is forced, for family reasons, to marry a man she can’t stand. On their wedding night she stabs him and appears in a bloodstained nightgown for a lengthy mad-scene, which Donizetti originally scored as a duet between the soprano and a rare solo instrument called a glass armonica, giving the scene a haunting unearthly quality. But he later rewrote it for flute because some of the orchestra musicians at the opera house in Naples went out on strike, including their only glass armonica player.
Nearly all productions of Lucia di Lammermoor since then have used the flute version — and generations of flutists have regarded this scene as a high point of their careers — but Matthew Jocelyn’s 2008 production at the Frankfurt Opera used the original glass armonica version, played by Sascha Reckert, who makes his own glass instruments and performs them all over the world either alone or with his ensemble Sinfonia di verto.
This 2008 production in Frankfurt was revived in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2016, conducted by Roland Böer, Erik Nielsen and Yuval Zorn (among others) and featuring Brenda Rae as Lucia starting in the middle of the 2010 series. Among the other singers over the years were George Petean, Tatiana Lisnic, Joseph Calleja, Peter Marsh, Bálint Szabó, Katherina Magiera, Michael McCown, Aris Argiris, Mario Chang, Iurii Samoilov and Nina Tarandek.
In addition to this Frankfurt production, which I have seen a dozen times at least, I have also seen different stagings of Lucia di Lammermoor in Hamburg 1998 (conducted by Frederic Chaslin, with Giusy Devinu as Lucia), Darmstadt 1999, Hannover 2000, the Deutsche Oper Berlin 2001 and Lille 2013 (with Rachele Gilmore as Lucia).
The most unique of these productions was the one in Hannover by Chris Alexander. In this staging, Lucia does not die at the end, but is secretly committed to an insane asylum by her family. An actress plays Lucia as an old woman who is on the stage throughout the opera, re-living her memories of her traumatic experiences when she was younger. This unusual staging of Lucia di Lammermoor was inspired by the fate of the French sculptress Camille Claudel (1864–1943), whose family committed her to an insane asylum for the last thirty years of her life.
Maria Stuarda (1835 Milan) is based on the classic German play Maria Stuart by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). This is a “what if” drama. Schiller asked himself what would have happened if Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) had ever met face to face with her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603). This never happened in real life, but in Schiller’s play and in Donizetti’s opera they do meet, and after this confrontation Elizabeth finally gives in to her advisors and signs Mary’s death warrant.
I once saw Schiller’s play at the Castle Festival in Bad Vilbel (2005) and I have seen two staged productions of Donizetti’s opera: in Wiesbaden 1999 and 2000 (once with the Australian tenor Christopher Lincoln jumping in as Robert Dudley) and in Zürich 2005.
In 2012 I went to a concert performance of Maria Stuarda at the “Old Opera” concert hall in Frankfurt, with Elza van den Heever as Queen Elisabeth I and Brenda Rae as Maria.
Roberto Devereux (1837 Naples) is a tragic opera I have only seen once, in a 2018 concert performance in Frankfurt, featuring Ambur Braid as Queen Elisabeth I of England and Mario Chang as Roberto Devereux, the Earl of Essex, a former lover of the Queen’s who has fallen into disfavor.
Don Pasquale (1843 Théâtre-Italien Paris) is a hugely successful comic opera that I have so far seen in five different productions: 1999 at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, 2007 in Bad Orb, 2016 at the Vienna State Opera, 2018 at the Opéra Garnier in Paris and 2023 at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt.
As I have already mentioned in various places, I think men of my age bracket should make a point of seeing Don Pasquale once or twice a year, just so we don’t get any stupid ideas about marrying younger women.
My lead photo on this post is from 2013,
after a performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” in Lille, France.