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8.660045-46 - DONIZETTI: Elisir d'amore (L')





Gaetano Donizetti is rightly regarded as the leading composer of Italian opera after the retirement of Rossini and the death of Bellini, until the rise to prominence of Verdi in the 1840s, his last successful operas immediately following Verdi's triumph with Nabucco in 1842. He was born in Bergamo in 1797. He had his early musical training as a chorister under the Bavarian-born Simon Mayr, the maestro di cappella at S Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, who arranged for him to study counterpoint in Bologna. Mayr had as a young man profited from similar assistance and Donizetti was much indebted to him for a very thorough musical training and for his first real opportunity as a composer of opera, with the successful staging of Zoraida di Granata in Rome in 1822. There followed a period in Naples, where he wrote a number of operas for the Teatro Nuovo and for La Scala in Milan. His international reputation was to be established with Anna Bolena, first staged in Milan in 1830, but later taken into the repertoire of other houses. It was, however, the comic opera L'elisir d'amore that fully secured his reputation in Milan, where it was produced at the Teatro della Canobbiana on 12th May 1832. In his subsequent career he wrote again for Naples and, accepting an invitation from Rossini, visited Paris, where French grand opera had an influence on his style. Later operas included a version of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novel in Lucia di Lammermoor and he was to win further successes. The stress of work in the opera-house, with all its difficulties, led to a hope of following the career of Rossini, five years his senior, who had been able to retire at the age of 38. This proved impossible for Donizetti and pressure of work brought a break-down in his health, partially a consequence of earlier syphilitic infection, and a period in an asylum near Paris, until he was able to be taken home to Bergamo, where he died in 1848.


L'elisir d'amore was written in a remarkably short time, at the request of the impresario of the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan, who had been let down by another composer and now needed a new opera to open his spring season, according to the later account of the librettist's wife only two weeks away. With the collaboration of the librettist Felice Romani, the work was completed, its text based in general on an existing French libretto by Eugene Scribe that had been set by Auber and staged in Paris a year earlier. Romani's wife claimed that the whole work was written within a fortnight, an obvious exaggeration, since it seems that Donizetti had already completed much of the opera some three weeks before it was to be staged, not to open the season but as a later part of it. It was an immediate success, its continuing position in international operatic repertoire comparable to that of Donizetti's other comic masterpiece, Don Pasquale, mounted first in Paris in 1843.



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