On Saturday 9 September, Opera Rara launch its Donizetti Song Project at Wigmore Hall with tenor Lawrence Brownlee and its Artistic Director Carlo Rizzi. Continuing its year-long celebration of Donizetti’s 225th birthday, this new multi-year initiative from Opera Rara will see Donizetti’s entire solo song output – nearly 200 in total, of which many have never been heard before – brought to life through performances and recordings.
For this first recital in Opera Rara’s ‘Donizetti & Friends’ series at Wigmore Hall, Brownlee and Rizzi perform songs by Donizetti, including three world premieres, alongside those of his contemporaries Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Schubert. When Patric Schmid and Don White conceived Opera Rara in 1970, their dream was to establish a Donizetti collection that would document all his operas through recordings.
With over 70 operas to Donizetti’s name, this was no small ambition, particularly as at the time only a handful were widely known. In May, Opera Rara premiered its 27th complete opera by Donizetti – L’esule di Roma – and with the launch of the Donizetti Song Project will continue to reshape the world’s view of the composer through its expansion of the current repertoire of operas and songs in circulation for the enjoyment of artists, scholars and audiences alike.
Spearheaded by Carlo Rizzi, the Donizetti Song Project is curated by Opera Rara’s Repertoire Consultant Roger Parker, whose detective work in tracking down the songs over the course of two years involved consultation of archives and collections worldwide, from Italy, France and the UK to Austria, Sweden and
Australia. Highlights of Brownlee and Rizzi’s recital include ‘Lunge ne vai’, which was thought to have been lost but was found in the Naples Conservatory Library; ‘Non v’è più barbaro’, discovered in an Austrian monastery near Linz; and an unfinished setting of part of Dante’s Inferno (called ‘O anime’), which survives only in manuscript form in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.
As Parker commented in an interview in The Observer: ‘It’s an amazing collection of songs, of which a large number are entirely new… some may have been published once in the 19th century but have never been performed in modern times, but there are many that have literally never, ever been played since the 19th century … Very often, Donizetti would write a song in an evening and give it to a friend as a present. In this way, the manuscripts got dispersed all over the place.’
In addition to the recitals at Wigmore Hall, Opera Rara’s Donizetti Song Project includes a series of twelve Salon Concerts for emerging artists and eight album releases featuring international singers, the latter including the company’s Artist Ambassadors Ermonela Jaho and Michael Spyres. Parker’s new edition of the Donizetti solo songs, completed in collaboration with Ian Schofield, will be published by Casa Ricordi and made publicly available over the next couple of years.
A week prior to the launch at Wigmore Hall, Brownlee and Rizzi will go into the studio to record an album of Donizetti tenor songs, for release in autumn 2024. Some weeks later, Rizzi will also record the songs for baritone, this time with Nicola Alaimo. Alaimo was recently heard as Murena in Opera Rara’s concert performance of L’esule di Roma at London’s Cadogan Hall with Britten Sinfonia conducted by Rizzi. Opera Rara’s studio recording of L’esule di Roma will be available from spring 2024, following the release of Offenbach’s La Princesse de Trébizonde this September.