Donizetti | Triumph and death
Donizetti moves to Paris in 1834-1835
Gaetano Donizetti was called, along with Bellini, by Rossini in his capacity as co-director of the Théâtre Italien. In Paris Bellini staged the premiere of I Puritani, Donizetti that of Marin Faliero, a dense political drama, greatly praised by Giuseppe Mazzini as a an example for a new, more committed opera.
Back in Naples
In 1835 Donizetti returned to Naples, where he compose some of his best operas, such as Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Roberto Devereux (1837), Poliuto (1838). However, personal dramas – his wife’s death in 1837 – and professional frustrations, such as the ban of Poliuto, decided by the bigoted administration of the Borbone, along with the missed appointment as Director of the Royal College of Music, convinced him to move permanently to Paris.
Return to Paris
Back in Paris Donizetti could personally attend to the staging at the Théâtre Italien of the French premieres of his Italian operas Roberto Devereux and Elisir d’amore. He also worked on the adaptation and translation into French of two of his operas, Lucie de Lammermoor and Le Martyrs, a remake of Poliuto.
Three new operas for the French public
Donizetti also wrote and staged in Paris three new operas: La Fille du Regiment (Opera-Comique, Feb1840), La favorite (Opera, Dec1840) and Rita.
A new formidable competitor on French stages
From Opera Seria to Italian comic opera to opera-comique and grand-opera Donizetti’s compositions were performed in all major theatres in Paris. This didn’t fail disturbing the ‘nationalist‘ supporters of French composers, one for all composer and journalist Berlioz.
The “newcomer” was a formidable competitor. His operas were not only performed in those auditorium traditionally reserved to Italian composers, such as the Théâtre Italien, but also in other theatres. Donizetti was able to win the competition of local composers on their own ground, thanks to a fast and happy assimilation of the French style, in comic opera as well as in grand historical drama.
Previous engagements with La Scala and in Vienna forced Donizetti to leave temporarily Paris: Maria Padilla was premiered in Milan in December 1841, Linda di Chamounix in Vienna in May 1842.
The appontment in Vienna
The success of Linda earned him the appointment as Court Composer and Maestro di Cappella e da Camera in Vienna. This appontment forces the composer to start travelling between the court of Vienna and Paris, with its public theatres.
On January 1843 Donizetti stages at the Théâtre Italien his comic masterpiece Don Pasquale which features a perfect combination of comic and sentimentalism, evocative atmosphere, lively characters, finely detailed by the composer’s music invention.
In June 1843 in Vienna he stages Maria di Rohan, a contemporary drama featuring situation and characters, which vocally and theatrically has been seen as Verdi’s operas starting point.
In 1843, again in Paris, a new premiere: Dom Sebastien a monumental historical fresco marked by sophisticated instrumentation and surprisingly innovative melodies.
Illness and death
Also in 1843 Donizetti started showing the first symptoms of a terrible brain disease, which got rapidly and progressively worse. Perhaps overlooked or misinterpreted at the beginning, Donizetti’s condition – almost certainly syphilis – degenerated during the summer 1845.
Subsequent medical treatments made the situation irreparable and in February 1846 the composer was interned in a mental institution in Paris.
Thanks to the intervention of friends and admirers, he was taken out of that horrible place and moved to an apartment. In September 1847 was finally arranged Donizetti’s return to Italy. The Basoni, a noble family from Bergamo, offered to their old friend the ospitality and the assistance of a doctor.
Donizetti travelled by train from Cologne through Brussels then arrived by boat to Basel, from where traveled by carriage towards Bergamo. He arrived unconscious and spent in that condition the last months of his life.
He died in Bergamo on 8 April 1848 only 51 and rests in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
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