Gaetano Donizetti-Sancia di Castiglia (1832)

Opera in two acts. Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes. NOTE: This is a revision of my previous review which I got fed up with. This review is now of the Montserrat Caballe recording which is shorter and I believe edited by about 15 minutes. What isn’t here but in the other version is the act 1 female chorus before Sancia’s aria and the Sancia/Elvira and Rodrigo/Garcia recitatives in act 2 scene 1.

PLOT: Sancia, Queen of Castile is widowed after a battle and thinks her son Garcia has also died in the same battle so she decides to wed a Muslim prince, Ircano, against the advice of her advisor Rodrigo, but when Garcia turns up alive and claims the throne, Ircano tells Sancia that he will only marry her if Garcia dies. She is about to have him drink poison when she has a sudden change of heart and drinks it herself, asking her son to forgive her as she dies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdQg8WCORkA

Act 1: 53 minutes

Scene 1: A hall in Sancia’s palace

12: There is a tragic introduction of two minutes, it sounds vaguely stereotypically Spanish at the very beginning before turning into a whirl wind and then quieting down only to menace again and then become brooding and then turning into a very serene melody that follows into the very formal and solemn opening chorus, rather dignified, which then turns into a dance like patter tune. Ircano introduces us to what has already transpired, namely that Sancia has been widowed and her son is believed to be dead. Ircano has murderous intents which he reveals in a surprisingly lilting cavatina, and the chorus is rather excited. Rodrigo arrives, confronting Ircano. These two men do not like each other, but Ircano tries to deflate the escalating situation **.  In a recitative, Rodrigo tells Ircano that he will try everything in his power to stop Sancia from marrying him.

Scene 2: Sancia’s apartments

25: Sancia comes on with Elvira and they discuss her wedding plans. Her aria is sub-standard bel canto soprano fare with low accompaniment, no star. The loss of the women’s chorus at the start of the scene is little consequence. Rodrigo arrives and asks Sancia if she is a queen or a slave. She must think of her son, not this Moor she plans on marrying. They go into a duet: Sancia claims to be following her heart, Rodrigo declares that she is following her ruin and that of Castile. When this does not work he attacks her as being impious, specifically for planning to marry a non-Christian. Where do her priorities lay? She tells him to leave her. Rodrigo has a lot of lilting music here which merits *.

Scene 3: Council Chamber

36: Rodrigo mourns the decline of Castile in an agreeable recitative. The Grandees arrive and Rodrigo attempts to call them to rebel against Sancia and her plan to introduce a Muslim as their king **. Ircano arrives with Sancia to a bizarrely jovial little march tune, Sancia tells everyone what she wants to do and then Rodrigo tells her off and then she tells him that what she wants goes because she is queen. Ircano interjects his own interests before Sancia’s son Garcia arrives, very much alive, declaring it is not Ircano’s or Sancia’s but his. Ircano is infuriated by this turn of events.

43.30: The 10 minute act finale starts with Sancia and Ircano very much upset with the new situation and Rodrigo and Garcia very happy with what is going on **. Sancia and Garcia are reconciled.

49: Garcia decides to banish Ircano, thus setting into motion the events of the next act and some very anti-Islamic utterances from the chorus *.

ACT 2: 42 minutes

Scene 1: Sancia’s apartments as in Act 1.

The orchestral introduction and much recitative have been cut. Ircano arrives and tells her that unless she has Garcia killed he can never marry her. He then proceeds to seduce her into committing the murder. Does she really love him? Then why can she not do this so that they can be united? The duet starts slow and although it becomes furious it never actually carries a melody and just flies from one theme to another without settling on choosing one. It isn’t a real number, it is glorified recitative that is fully orchestrated and fully sung like a number, but it does forward the plot more than most of the numbers that have preceded it. No star.

Scene 2: Hall as in Act 1.

Rodrigo finds Garcia and their duetting includes some more lilting interjections for Rodrigo which are now too infrequent to merit even a star. Garcia’s eventually aria is rather boring and the chorus is rather standard as well, no star. Elvira gets her moment: telling us in recitative that Sancia is starting to go crazy. She just figured that out?

Scene 3: The Throne Room.

25: The finale starts with a 3 and a half minute prelude during which we realize just how short this opera is, which is its only true merit. Sancha is one crazy lady now, preoccupied with frustration over how her son is still alive and jeopardizing her relationship with Ircano, all in extremely typical bel canto gestures including orchestral crescendo. She is ready to poison the cup Garcia will drink; that is how she will do it. She then goes into a stock aria regarding the poison with coloratura similar to her aria and duet with Rodrigo in Act 1 which I am giving a single star * because nothing else here deserves one.  Ircano arrives just before Sancha is going to destroy the poison and stops her and he starts abusing her. Sancha poisons the cup and the people arrive with Garcia and Rodrigo for the coronation, taking it from Garcia instantly, she drinks the poisoned cup and confesses everything in a very melodramatic cavatina which actually has some slight music merit. Sancha is finally acting like a human being (now that she is dying ironically), something she has failed to do for the entirety of the opera before this moment. The poison takes an exceptionally long time to take effect. Ircano mentally tortures the dying Sancha which is extremely cruel and Garcia orders him out of the palace. After a four minute cavatina con coro, she dies.

Sancia di Castiglia has to be among the poorest operas I have ever seen, and I have heard some terrible operas in my day. Trying out a different production did not help and in this revision only one star rating improved, three stayed the same and the rest downgraded or dropped entirely while I added only one new star which replaced two. However I must stress that the best music easily belongs to the tenor Rodrigo, who is probably the work’s only merit. Although this only helps the first act, the second is unredeemable. The plot is stupid; the mental decline of the protagonist happens far too quickly to be believable and she is far too unlikeable for anyone to really care. So is her relationship with Ircano, who is insanely abusive and a stereotyped character of the worst kind. It rates a C- at best, and with that I (at long last) lay Sancia to rest.

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