Magazine article Opera Canada


Magazine article Opera Canada


Article excerpt



Opera Rara: ORC52

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was nothing if not prolific. He wrote almost 70 operas, 51 of them for Naples and the Teatro San Carlo alone. In 1838, however, his latest creation for the San Carlo, Poliuto, was banned by Neapolitan censors due to its religious content, which was deemed unfit for the stage. Furious at this, Donizetti decided to leave Italy and go to Paris, where he hoped to secure a commission.

Instead of a fresh commission, however, Donizetti and the Paris Opera chose to expand and rework the ill-fated Poliuto into a grand opera in the style of Meyerbeer and Halevy. A new French libretto by Eugene Scribe was ordered, ballet music was added, three acts became four, new arias and ensembles were composed ... and so Poliuto was transformed into Les Martyrs. It premiered in 1840, at the same time that the composer's La file du regiment and Lua a di Lammermoor were playing in other Paris theatres.

Set in 3rd-century Armenia, the opera deals with the Roman persecution of Christians. While a modest success at its premiere, Les Martyrs was not to survive the march of time. Later, this French version was translated back into Italian and performed under the original title, Poliuto. …

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