DONIZETTI: Marino Faliero

Singers had also
been making the trek for as long as these cities had standing opera
companies. Rossini, of course, was the first to make the trip in the post
Napoleonic period, leaving for Paris after his Semiramide in 1823,
and composed all his remaining operas for that city. The last, and most
important, of these was Guillaume Tell, in 1829. Meyerbeer came
next, and scored what was easily one of his greatest triumphs with Robert
le Diable
in 1831. Auber and HalÈvy were there already, with Auber
having written several successes. HalÈvy’s best year was to come in 1835.
With Rossini entrenched in a position of power in the musical life of Paris,
he extended invitations to both Bellini and Donizetti to compose new works
for the 1834-1835 season.

In the meantime, some of Italy’s greatest singers of the period: Giulia
Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache (later
called the Puritani quartet) had already come North. They were
splitting their seasons between Paris (autumn and winter) and London (spring
and early summer), often performing as a unit. By the start of 1835, the
stage was set for what was to become possibly the greatest single year in the
history of opera. It started gloriously on January 25 with the premiere of
I puritani, probably one of the greatest triumphs in the history of
the ThȂtre Italien. Less than a month after that, on Feb. 23, came the
premiere of HalÈvy’s La juive. Marino Faliero had to wait
until March 12—more on that opera below. Not to be outdone, Auber’s
Le cheval de Bronze had its’ premiere at the OpÈra Comique eleven
days afterward. By September, Donizetti was back in Naples for Lucia di
, and in December, HalÈvy’s second most important work,
L’Èclair was premiered at the OpÈra Comique.

Donizetti, who had started working on Marino Faliero while still
in Italy, arrived in Paris in time to attend the prima of I
, and put the finishing touches on in that city. The work was
based on a drama by Casimir Delavigne, which, in turn had been based
on Byron. The premiere came at the end of the Paris season, and, due to
various problems, it was only possible to give a few performances. Donizetti
was pleased with its success, although it was less tumultuous than of the
Bellini work. Both operas were repeated when the singers traveled to London,
Marino Faliero being given first, on May 14, actually one week ahead
of Puritani, and repeated next season in both cities. It had a long
and successful career, being given all over the world, and probably had about
twice as many productions in the nineteenth century as Roberto
. Its U.S premiere was in New Orleans in 1842 and it was later
given in New York City.

The music of Marino Faliero has many strikingly beautiful
moments. The first act has a wonderful, and fiendishly difficult, aria for
the tenor, Fernando, followed by one of Donizetti’s better love duets, and
another duet, this time for the two basses. This duet is sufficiently similar
to that in I puritani, that some have wondered if it was actually
composed after Donizetti heard his rival’s opera. The act ends with one of
Donizetti’s rousing finales. The second act starts with a stunning barcarole
for the Gondolier and chorus (a part of which was reused in Il
), and a second solo for Fernando, perhaps even more
difficult than the first. The act finale is a big aria for Faliero, with the
participation of the rest of the cast, except for Elena. Fernando dies a
beautiful death between the slow and fast portions of this number. The
highlight of the third act is a prayer for Elena, which, as Ashbrook states,
“has moved a long way from the convention of the aria finale. And, if the
singer should feel slighted, the actress has a golden moment”.* Before the premiere of his own I
, Bellini had been horrified to learn that Donizetti would again
be competing with him—and feared another confrontation, as had happened
three times before (Genoa, 1828, Milan 1830-31 and 1831-32).
Puritani became a repertory work (being given in almost every season
in both Paris and London for many years), and was probably the most
successful Italian opera ever premiered in France. Marino Faliero
never made it into the standard repertory, except in a few isolated cities,
but did get performed somewhere or other for many years. In fact, it was one
of the more successful of his operas. Its’ last known performance in the
nineteenth century was in Venice in 1888, after which it disappeared until it
was revived in Bergamo in 1966. It has had sporadic revivals since, three of
which being by the Opera Camerata of Washington D.C. in March 1998, followed
by Parma in January 2002 and OONY that April. It was originally planned to
issue the Parma revival commercially, but this has not yet taken place. The
Parma cast featured Rockwell Blake as Fernando, Mariella Devia as Elena,
Roberto Servile as Israele and Michele Pertusi as Faliero.

It might be interesting to compare the two bel canto operas, one by
Bellini and the other by Donizetti, which had their primas in the same season
with essentially the same cast: I puritani and Marino
. The big differences are that the Donizetti has a tragic plot
while the Bellini has a happy ending and a longer and more showy role for the
prima donna, with two arias rather than one. Thus, Elena has little to do in
the first two acts—a love duet, and the Act I finale and does not even
appear in Act II. Elvira, on the other hand, has two major arias and a
brilliant rondo finale.

This opera marks Donizetti’s third attempt to do away with the established
practice of giving the prima donna the final aria. Usually, of course, this
honor went to her. It seems almost traditional, starting with Bellini’s
Il pirata, to give the penultimate aria to the tenor, and the last
word to the soprano. But, there were exceptions—in Torquato
, the baritone virtually had the last act to himself, his lady love
having died while he was in prison. And, in Lucia di Lammermoor,
Donizetti’s next work, he reversed the order—first Lucia’s mad scene,
then the tenor’s big aria.

But Donizetti had tried to eliminate this aria entirely in Lucrezia
, only to have MÈric-Lalande insist on her rights. He did
eliminate it in Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, but the opera, beautiful as
it is, failed. Finally, in Marino Faliero, Donizetti pulled it off.
Mercadante also pulled it off in Il giuramento (1837), and although
some more works still featured the bravura aria finale, Italian opera was
never the same after that.

The performance presented by Bongiovanni is one recorded for Italian radio
in 1976. It was previously released on LP. The cast, headed by soprano Marisa
Galvany and the wonderful bass Cesare Siepi, together with Giuliano Cianella
and Licinio Montefusco ranges from acceptable to great.

With the exception of some botched high notes by the tenor, the singing is
generally fine. Marisa Galvany is one of the better sopranos of the 1970s and
1980s, but never had the career she deserved. She sang two seasons with the
Metropolitan Opera, but only one performance (a Norma in 1979) was in New
York. During her other season she took part in the 1985 spring tour singing
one Ortrud and five Gertruds. She is perhaps best known for taking part in
the revival of Mayr’s Medea in Corinto in 1970, which was
released by Vanguard Records. The tenor, Giuliano Cianella, has a very
attractive voice, and sang a varied repertoire during seven seasons with the
Met. However, he would have been well advised to have stayed away from roles
requiring an incredibly challenging top. It would be unkind to discuss his
attempts at the high Ds in the tenor role, which had been created by Rubini.
Licinio Montefusco is a serviceable baritone, while Cesare Siepi is one of
the better basses of the last century. He was already slightly past his prime
by 1976, but still gives but strikes me as the best reading of the score on

Those of us who view bel canto operas simply from the standpoint of the
soprano and her role may be slightly disappointed, since some of them might
consider her part as “too little and too late in the opera”.
Actually, though, the fact is that they might be just a little bit spoiled by
all the Donizetti operas where the soprano has two big arias to only one (if
that)by the tenor. Both have four major numbers, and it just so happens that
two of the soprano’s (her aria and final duet) come in the last act
where the tenor is already dead. On the other hand, Donizetti fans and
especially Donizetti completists like myself will be as delighted with this
recording as I am.

In closing, I would like to return to Ashbrook, who states:

Marin Faliero marks a significant step forward for Donizetti. It provides
clear evidence of his search to bend the conventions to his own dramatic

Tom Kaufman

* William Ashbrook, Donizetti and his
, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1982, p. 373

** Ibid, idem, p.374

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero
product_by=Marisa Galvany sop. (Elena); Giuliano Ciannella ten. (Fernando); Licinio Montefusco bar. (Israele); Cesare Siepi bass (Marino Faliero); Ernesto Gavazzi ten. (Un gondoliere) Orchestra Sinfonico e Coro di Milano della RAI Maestro del Coro: Mino Bordignon, Maestro Concertatore e Direttore: Elio Boncompagni
product_id=Bongiovanni 2408/9-2 [2CDs]