A case in point is the melodramma giocoso entitled Francesca di Foix (1831). For instance, William Ashbrook, perhaps the most noted interpreter of Donizettiís career, deemed this score ìlargely inconsequential,î suggesting as well that it was ìnot the expected sequel to Anna Bolenaî (1830) and that it must have been composed with ìminimal exertion.î The current re-examination of operaís narrative has compelled scholars to take a different approach. No longer is it protocol to separate out works that somehow seem apart from the norm; rather it is important, especially in light of slow but steady publication of sets of critical editions, to acknowledge each work as a step in a composerís compositional development. Hence, a recording of Francesca di Foix, especially one as well-performed as this latest addition to Opera Raraís CDs of the works of Donizetti, becomes as important as it is entertaining.
Francesca di Foix was written for performance at the San Carlo in Naples for the onomastico or name day of Ferdinando II. Jeremy Commons, author of the CD liner notes, seems surprised by the subject of the work: it revolves around jealousy rather than love. Given the importance and international vogue of French opÈra comique, the libretto, based on a subject set by Henri-Montan Berton, hardly seems out of place at all. Furthermore, the history of Donizettiís opera speaks to its popularity. The gala starred the most important baritone of the primo Ottocento stage: Antonio Tamburini (who, let it be noted, sang the role of the King, the character who not only sorts of Francescaís problems with her husband but who would have symbolized Ferdinando). Given that there was no such thing as an operatic repertory, it is unfair to judge the quality of Francescaís music on its seven-performance run. Moved to the Teatro Fondo from the massive venue in which it was premiered, it nonetheless was returned to the San Carlo, where it was sung three more times. Its future after that is predictable; since occasional pieces generally were associated with the celebrations for which they were commissioned, it is highly unlikely that Donizetti would have considered offering his name-day present to the ruler of the city in which he was employed to theaters outside of Naples. He may have gained nothing more than fame from the work, but the fact that he plumbed it later for self-borrowings suggests that he was confident about the score. The comment of music publisher Guglielmo Cottrau (ìthe music is very feebleî) can easily be explained away; it was par for the course, indeed obligatory for publishers to speak ill of the music of composers in whose works they did not deal (in fact, Cottrau would not publish Donizettiís music until later).
Assuming that Patric Schmid and Robert Robertsí performing edition, based on the holograph score at the Naples Conservatory, has preserved the workís historical integrity, Opera Raraís Francesco di Foix is a delight. The recordingís cast features a now-familiar set of performers who excell in this repertory. Among these regulars are Annick Massis, Bruce Ford, Pietro Spagnoli, and in another ìbreeches role,î Jennifer Larmore, all joined by Alfonso Antoniozzi. One comes to expect the highest quality from this core group and no one disappoints in this production. Particularly notable is Massisí rendition of the cabaletta ìDonzelle, si vi stimola,î a perfect example of the some of the inventive elements in this score. Massis and Ford offer a spectacular rendition of the stretta ìQuante son delle civetteî of Francesca and the Dukeís duet. As usual, Larmoreís performance is consistently excellent as is Spagnoliís. If it is Opera Raraís intent (and one must go by the liner notes in this case) to highlight Francesca di Foix as an opera semiseria, Antoniozziís interpretation, heard even in his entrance, ìChe vita, della cacciaî emphasizes the buffo elements of his role a bit too strongly. On the other hand, this interpretation may serve well for it allows listeners to link this score with roles like Dulcamara and Don Pasquale. Finally, the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir offers non-intrusive but substantive support that is right on the mark.
Francesca di Foix is no inconsequential work; rather it is a gem in miniature, featuring all of the stylistic elements of primo Ottocento opera in one single act. Kudos to Opera Rara for (re)introducing it to the world.
image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Francesca di Foix
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Francesca di Foix
product_by=Annick Massis (Contessa Francesca di Foix); Bruce Ford (The Duke); Alfonso Antoniozzo ( Il Conte); Pietro Spagnoli (Il Re); Jennifer Larmore (Il Paggio). Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Antonello Allemandi (cond.).
product_id=Opera Rara ORC 28