Gaetano Donizetti: Caterina Cornaro (1844)

Opera in a prologue and two acts. Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.




PROLOGUE: (36 minutes)

Scene 1: The (attempted) wedding of Caterina and Gerardo.

3, 8, 13 After an uneventful if mood setting orchestral prelude-opening nuptial chorus combo the first Caterina-Gerardo duet * is sweet and mildly charming. The evil Mocenigo ruins everything by crashing the wedding with news that Lusignano, King of Cyprus, wants to marry Caterina, threatening to have her father Andrea and Gerardo executed if she refuses. He does this to the most delicate (and thus weird) aria *. The scene ends with a stretta full of angst and some okay coloratura from Caterina *.

Scene 2: Caterina’s chambers.

18, 22, 27, 29: After another chorus (off-stagers), we get a rather good cavatina from Caterina **. The cabaletta is springy but not much else * followed by a furious recitative with her father and then Mocenigo. The second Caterina-Gerardo duet ** is a relief starting off with near placid calm and includes one descending scale. She gives him the brush off because otherwise he will be executed for trying to elope with her. He curses her and leaves. A good seven minutes.

ACT 1: (47 minutes)

Scene 1: A piazza in Nicosia before the royal palace.

3: After a brief introduction from the orchestra we get a recitative from Mocenigo and his henchmen Strozzi reports that Gerardo has been spotted nearby, they plot to kill him in a good duet *.

6: A cavatina for Lusignano ** with a good orchestral accompaniment.

16, 22: This is followed by a sedate (although it has some bangs from the orchestra) male chorus of cut throats and the arrival of Gerardo. Lusignano rescues him in a recitative but there really isn’t much to talk about until their duet * which is a sweet, gentle, placid one as Gerardo first reveals his love for Caterina and his devastation at her rejection of him. Lusignano swears eternal friendship with him when he reveals who he is (the husband of his former lover). Then there is an off-stage march and Gerardo gives a good tenor cry. The duet finished to a jovial good tune **.

Scene 2: The Queen’s chambers.

23.5: A delicate orchestral prelude brings on an off-stage female chorus *. Haunting in a mild way, very pretty with nice flute and violin solos scurrying about. Caterina is addressed by her husband (Lusignano), who in the intervening moments has become seriously ill.

27, 37: Lusignano’s second aria * is mild and gentle with minor interjections from Caterina. Gerardo comes on and he sees Caterina again after what is apparently a long time but which has really only been about 30 minutes. Agitation and a third duet develops out of this which never really gels properly but it is serviceable enough until one good tune pops up in Caterina’s vocal line first * but which is never fully developed (it does however feel like it is re-used from an earlier Donizetti opera but I am not sure since, maybe Roberto Devereux or Lucia?). Mocenigo arrives and tries to get Caterina in on the conspiracy to kill her husband, this doesn’t work at all (Gerardo has already told her that the king is ill because he is being poisoned).

41: The first act finale * is a bouncy piece and a standard bel canto finale with coloratura from Caterina as Lusignano declares war on Venice and somehow this is where we have an intermission finally! A rousing conclusion.

ACT 2: Atrium of the Royal Palace. (21 minutes)

1: Gerardo’s loyalty aria ** has a noble horn accompaniment and a good tune as he goes to lead the troops against Venice.

6: The  finale starts off with the Battle beginning with a furious female chorus describing the proceedings **.

9: Caterina comes on to pray *, another noble horn tune. Sedate.

15, 18: The victory of the Cypriots is announced to a fair-ground tune, but it is short lived as Lusignano has been mortally wounded in battle. He comes on supported by Gerardo with a warm aria *.  He hands power over to Caterina as he dies. She, now queen regnant, goes into waltzing patriotic rondo that ends the opera *.


Structurally this opera is simply weird, there is no other word to describe it, especially if you already know Halevy’s opera. The first three scenes are the first three acts of La Reine de Chypre, just in miniature. The second scene of act one is basically act five scene one of Reine followed by an elongated battle sequence.  There is, however, a massive lack of character development with everything happening far too quickly to make dramatic sense. Halevy’s opera had a much better dramatic arch. Musically, this isn’t terrible, in fact some of it is rather good although nothing here is repertoire worthy, rather it is about average actually, but any opera that forces one to stay seated for 84 minutes only to have a 21 minute second act is simply too inane for words. C+.

6 responses to “Gaetano Donizetti: Caterina Cornaro (1844)”

  1. Speak of the devil! I’m putting my thoughts on the opera up this morning.


    1. I hope you are kinder than I. I look forward to reading your perspective and to compare.


      1. I doubt it!


      2. Next one up is also Italian – but moving to China.


  2. […] minds think alike; my friend Phil posted about this opera on his blog this […]


  3. What is Italian but moving to China? Can it be Turandot!


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