Gaetano Donizetti: Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1835)

Opera in two acts. Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

My suggestion is that one listen to the 1994 Opera Rara release with Renee Fleming in the title role and not the 2010 Dynamic live performance release because the last five minutes of the score were cut from the latter production for some reason. The two recordings are otherwise relatively synchronized so it was easy for me to convert this from the Dynamic to the Opera Rare release.

LINK: (Recording with Renee Fleming)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E3Df3sTL84

I decided to return to Western Europe. This opera has received much praise in the last decade so I figured, why not investigate?

SETTING: Woodstock Castle, England, second half of the 12th century. Queen Leonora (Eleanor of Aquitaine) learns that her husband, Henry II, is maintaining a mistress. The obvious conclusion ensues.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (77.5 minutes)

Scene 1: The Gardens of Woodstock Castle.

0: The overture * starts off as high drama but quickly turns to some very standard Donizetti galloping march music. It is clever, but also a bit ordinary.

7, 11, 13, 18: The Introduction has a rather standard “arrival of the king” opening from the orchestra and a scurrying opening chorus *. Queen Leonora encounters the page Arturo (who is indebted to her as he was an orphaned brought into the court by her) and forces him/her to disclose that his master’s (the king) has a mistress installed in a tower on the castle grounds in a somewhat confused duet * leading to a rondo from Leonora * who promises to encourage the page’s love for this mysterious woman whose name even he does not know and more “arrival of the king” from the orchestra and chorus. I will give it one thing, we have had continuous music from the curtain rise until: Enrico’s Cavatina ** which winds up as the first great number because of its orchestral effectiveness. He has just returned from the war in Ireland and is so happy to lay down his weapons finally.

28: After a patch of recitative: The Enrico-Clifford duet ** starts off as sunny as can be but actually turns to rather fine drama. Clifford is Enrico’s former tutor and the father of the beautiful Rosmonda. Clifford knows that Enrico has betrayed Leonora and taken a mistress, but her exact identity is unknown to him. Enrico tells Clifford that he is free to see the woman, but that he should be compassionate towards her and more than likely thrilled that she may soon become Queen of England.

Scene 2: Rosmonda’s tower.

36, 39, 46: For it is Rosmonda, Clifford’s own daughter, who is Enrico’s mistress (not a surprise there). She embarks on a mild recitative * followed by a lovely, if delicate (it has the gentlest orchestral accompaniment), sortita **, full of coloratura flourishes as she struggles between both sexual desire to be possessed once more by her beloved and remorse over her actions (taking a lover who she knows only as ‘Edegardo’, so pre-marital sex=bad), but getting rudely interrupted by Arturo who guards her from without (apparently the music here was reused by Donizetti in 1839 for the French revision of Lucie de Lammermoor). Her cabaletta is (as usual) a bit more upbeat * if more standard overall (apart from the coloratura flourishes).

55, 60: Arturo tells Rosmonda that she has a visitor (whom she recognizes immediately as her father Clifford but he doesn’t recognize her at first). Much Mickey-mousing ensues as Rosmonda reveals who she is to Arturo and tries to keep herself hidden from her father (it is all over in three minutes) prompting a confrontational duet between father and daughter ***. This actually comes off very well (and a little like a prototype for the Verdi father-daughter duets), as Rosmonda admits her grave remorse (very touching) over allowing herself to be deflowered by some guy she doesn’t even know. Grasp these four minutes with both hands, they are the best in the entire act. But her father reveals the sticky-wicket: her lover is the King himself! This revelation prompts a rather stock if tuneful stretta *.

63, 68, 73: Enrico calls Rosmonda’s name, who now wants to avoid him (she even addresses him not as king but as Leonora’s husband!). This moves us into the first movement of the act finale * as Enrico begs Rosmonda to forgive him to a rather galloping tune, then becomes confrontational with Clifford (who is against Enrico’s plan to divorce Leonora and make his daughter Queen). Leonora herself arrives with the court and pretends to act surprised at the reactions of the others: Enrico wants to kill her, Clifford is distressed, Rosmonda is weeping, all prompting a good ensemble **. Clifford tries to have Rosmonda taken into Leonora’s protection but Enrico suspects she will attempt to murder her rival and forbids this declaring that Leonora will be annulled the following day. Amid the resulting hostilities the act ends in a rather standard stretta ** which sounds like a first draft of the act 2 finale of Maria Stuarda but saved from oblivion by a tune Donizetti might possibly have taken from the overture to Bellini’s I capuleti e I montecchi. Perhaps it is just a co-incidence, after all Massenet’s overture to Herodiade contains a melody that first popped up in the overture to Mercadante’s Il reggente. 

ACT 2 (72.5 minutes)

Scene 1: The Great Hall, Woodstock Castle.

1, 3: After a slightly ornery bit of orchestral introduction, a standard act opening male chorus (of councillors) with a bit of agitation in the middle *, it grows into a good and unexpected climax ** in the last minute. Enrico considers Leonora a greater threat to him in England and so the council decides that if his marriage to her is so annoying to him that she should be returned to her regnant seat in Aquitaine.

7, 11, 17: The Leonora-Enrico duet *, in which she tries to use reason to get back into Enrico’s heart (and the fact that he owes his throne to her intervention). It has some good points, like the violin that follows Enrico about as well as Leonora’s pleading to a solid repeated tune. But also has moments when the orchestra totally goes out and the singers are completely exposed, or else the pit engages in Mickey-mousing. The other problem is that although Enrico’s feelings of hatred are genuine (if somewhat annoying), Leonora’s glorious attempts * at getting back with her husband which sound genuine but feel rather dreadfully hollow (she really just wants the power that comes with being his wife). It also sounds like almost everything else Donizetti wrote (a mild and happy nature tune that moves at a walking pace to go with the high dramatics on stage). The stretta * is jumpy as Enrico rejects his wife’s advances one last time and storms off.

Scene 2: A gallery in Rosmonda’s tower.

23: Arturo comes on pinning for Rosmonda to a running accompaniment which goes in and out. In his sweet little aria * (pathetic really, albeit cute) he knows that because he is only a page his love can never go anywhere (not with the King as his rival). He also regrets being a tool for the Queen, but he also has no recourse: he is too indebted to her.

30, 34: Clifford arrives (Arturo had thought it was the Queen). Having been imprisoned by Enrico but released by Leonora, Clifford arrives to tell his reluctant daughter that it is his wish that she leave England within the hour for Aquitaine and marry Arturo (both parties are shocked by this revelation). At first she is against any marriage (with Enrico, Arturo, any man), prompting another aria which has a terrible orchestral accompaniment but a good bit of soprano fireworks *. She eventually capitulates after much angst. The cabaletta is a bit more lively ** as she (ironically) declares that she is now without peace or hope.

38, 43, 48: Rosmonda encounters Enrico in a scene ending duet **. He tries to convince her that the Council will declare his marriage to Leonora null and void and she will be able to marry him and be Queen Consort. She, however, has other plans, tells him that she will never consent to marrying him as long as Leonora is alive, and that even if she out of the picture, she still wouldn’t marry him. She flees from him. Look out especially for Enrico’s rather lilting plea ** and one concluding rocking bit after the clock tower strikes the hour and Rosmonda takes off **.

Scene 3: The Gardens of Woodstock Castle.

52: Now something rather surprisingly different, a strong orchestral accompaniment to a  chorus of Leonora’s followers who watch from the bushes (literally) for Rosmonda who is to meet with Arturo so they can embark for France **.

57, 64, 68: The fifteen minute finale * starts with (again) a good orchestral accompaniment but for some reason Donizetti started suffering burn out or something and provides us with standard bel canto fare which is unable to connect (most of the time) to the severity of the dramatic action. Rosmonda worries, Arturo is nowhere around. Where is Arturo? (Seriously, where is he?) Leonora arrives and accuses Rosmonda of fleeing to Enrico (she takes out a dagger at the point). Rosmonda pleads that she is about to depart with Arturo for France, never to return. She almost convinces Leonora to a joyous vocal tune * before the latter’s followers arrive and alert the Queen that the King is arriving with guards. In a mad panic, Leonora fatally stabs Rosmonda just as Enrico and Clifford arrive. Donizetti fails here, to the point of being idiotic. There is a final aria * for Leonora in which she blames Enrico for her actions (this is a little unconvincing, even though Enrico was planning on divorcing and deporting her, to psychotically attack an unwitting girl is just, schizophrenic) which provides a sub-standard conclusion to an otherwise standard work.

COMMENTS:

This opera has a very spotty performance history. After the 1835 premiere (in Florence) it disappeared until 1975 (London) apart from a single production in Livorno in 1845. I have to admit that personally I am not surprised by this as I really don’t like this opera. It is okay, but there is nothing about it that makes it unique, no amazing tune, and the plot is rather absurd (the final scene, in which Leonora psychotically knifes Rosmonda is both ahistorical and rather appalling to anyone who has seen Katherine Hepburn’s portrayal of Eleanore in The Lion in Winter. The Opera Rara release makes a better case for the opera than the Dynamic release, but I still find myself dissatisfied with a work which never really adds up to the sum of its good parts and which has a lot of things that aren’t very good. The only great moment is the middle section of the first act Rosmonda-Clifford duet, the rest is okay, but rather standard at best and bordering on ornery at worst. The plot is a gamma: it isn’t just the historical inaccuracies, it is simply that the plot is stupid and Rosmonda’s murder by Leonora simply leaves a bad taste in ones mouth. In spite of my desire to give this a gamma, the music (apart from the musical abortion that is the opera’s final scene) might lift it to a beta minus.

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30 thoughts on “Gaetano Donizetti: Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1835)

  1. Oh, dear!

    Are you judging this on the Dynamic recording, rather than Opera Rara? In that case: why not give it another go? 😉

    Very much I like the exhilarating overture.

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    1. I listened to the Dynamic first (it was a disaster, wasn’t it?, I literally screamed at my computer for two minutes when I realized the ending got chopped off), then the Opera Rara, and I made a few positive changes reflecting the OR recording. The latter is better of course but I’m not digging it. There are some okay things here, even one item got three stars, but I’m not enthralled with it nor Renee Fleming’s throaty way of doing things either. I also live in a love-hate relationship with Donizetti. Some of his operas I really like and others I wish never saw the footlights (the consequence of writing 68 operas I suppose). I’m not sure with this one, but I definately find the finale irredeemable, final cabaletta cut or intact. There are a few two star items, which are good mind you, but I find a lot of this rather like any other bel canto opera, even the act one finale has a tune that is basically identical to a Bellini tune. I do like the tune, but it comes off as a borrowing. It doesn’t have a unique voice like parts of Maria Stuarda or Lucia di Lammermoor. While listening to the overture I kept thinking how the overture to Margherita d’Anjou is better. It is loud and brassy, but I guess just not to my taste. Also, one star items are not cast-offs, they are “worth looking out for”. I worry that the one-star is seen as a reference to something that I’m perceiving as worthless, that isn’t the case, that would be the “no star” items. Remember, both Voce di donna from La Gioconda and the overture to La Forza are one-star items.

      I’m guessing you like it then?

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      1. It’s OK; I’ve listened to it a couple of times, found it a bit dull, to be honest!

        I certainly like Donizetti more than you do – but agree that he wrote a hell of a lot of hackwork. The early, pre-Imelda operas, those few I’ve heard, strike me as Rossini imitations, and leave me cold.

        Are we both taking sabbaticals from blogging?

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      2. I don’t know about a sabbatical, I actually have two or three projects that are more than half completed which I could submit with about 90 minutes of concentration. I’d like to get at least one Pacini opera out before I leave.

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      3. I know, I got rid of it though because I said it in a moment of rage. I was very angry with the Donizetti festival for cutting that final aria for Leonora. It isn’t that it is a great aria (it isn’t) but to chop off the finale like that was just artistically wrong. One reviewer on Amazon said “operas are entertainments, not mathematical equations” or something to that effect. Even if I wasn’t thrilled with this thing, I’d still prefer it complete. Thankfully I didn’t buy the album, I just listened to it through my Amazon Prime Music subscription.

        Overall, this was another of those “glad I heard it once/twice but I don’t want to hear it again” operas.

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      4. Still, on the whole, I prefer Donizetti to Verdi. (I can really see why the French held him in low esteem.) If Donizetti doesn’t hit the heights of a Don Carlos, Aida, or Otello, his average is better. (Or his mastery of conventions?)

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      5. Donizetti was sort of like Gounod (although a much more prolific producer of operas). He was a master of a specific style and gave audiences of the time what they wanted, which might not mean that many of his works make sense today. He was a crowd pleaser and from what I can tell, a descent human being. Not a genius of the craft, although at times he could muster a work bordering on genius. He did have the ability to write witty comic operas (they aren’t my favs but other people love L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale), something Verdi was almost incapable of doing.

        You really can’t compare Mature Verdi to Donizetti, the musical style of the day had changed too much post-Forza del destino. Ballo would make an excellent comparison however. Don Carlos, Aida, and Otello, are amazing reactions to Wagner, proving Verdi equal (Aida) or even surpassing (Don Carlos, Otello) the Wizard. It is possible that without Wagner’s Tristan (of all things) providing a challenge these three operas might not be so advanced.

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      6. I don’t see much Wagner in Don Carlos or Otello, but plenty of French grand opera.

        Donizetti wasn’t just a master of a specific style. What style do you mean? Of Imelda de’ Lambertazzi? Of Roberto Devereux? Of L’Assedio di Calais? Of Maria di Rohan? Of Linda di Chamounix? Of La favorite? Donizetti’s best works are distinct. (Go and read Ashbrook, if you haven’t already!)

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  2. Sorry I should have clarified: the style is bel canto. Obviously his genre hopping precludes seeing him as a composer of just tragic opera (like Verdi). I’m currently working on Maria di Rohan (I’ve heard it before years ago). I don’t know, 90% of the time I end up dissatisfied with Donizetti. I might want to try Imelda de’Lambertazzi. Are there any other Donizetti as bullet proof as Lucia because I’m running out of patience with him! 🙂

    Many assume that Don Carlos and Otello are not Wagnerian but rather reactions to Wagner. This is how they are sometimes able to convert dyed in the wool acolytes of Wagnerism to our side (the opening of act 2 of Don Carlos sometimes works miracles on those who know nothing but Parsifal). I repeat, they aren’t Wagnerian, but they accomplish many of the same ideas (and have the same dramatic power) while remaining within either the realm of French Grand Opera (Don Carlos), or Italian opera (obviously Otello). I personally believe that in Otello, Verdi surpassed everything that had come before in Western music, including Wagner (the ending always makes me weep, not with sorrow, but with amazement!).

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  3. OK, what have you done?

    1. Imelda de’ Lambertazzi – B
    2. Sancia di Castiglia – C-
    3. Gemma di Vergy – B / B-
    4. Marino Faliero – B-
    5. Rosmonda d’Inghilterra – B-
    6. Roberto Devereux – A-
    7. Dom Sébastien – B+
    8. Caterina Cornaro – C+
    9. Poliuto – A

    You haven’t done Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia, or Maria Stuarda. You haven’t done La favorite (probably his most popular opera in France). Maria Padilla is pretty good. So are L’assedio di Calais, Linda di Chamounix, and Maria di Rohan. And either Parisina or Pia de’ Tolomei is supposed to be excellent.

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    1. I’m actually working on Maria Padilla and I’ve completed the first two acts of Maria di Rohan (I’ve seen all of it years ago, but I’m slow with some of my reviews, Maria di Rohan, though I’ll reveal that I’ve already panned it, I don’t get act 1 at all). I’ve considered Parisina as well, and I’ve seen Maria di Rudenz before but I haven’t reviewed it yet. I won’t do Maria Stuarda because Forman did it and I like it a lot, maybe Lucie de Lammermoor if I can find a good recording since it is very different from Lucia.

      Anna Bolena and Lucrezia Borgia would be good, as would La favorite (if I can find a good recording in the original French). I’ve also considered Pia de Tolomei for a long time along with Fausta, Ugo conte di Parigi, and Torquato Tasso.

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      1. For La favorite: either Viotti’s recording with Kasarova and Vargas.

        Rulhmann’s Paris 1912 recording is the the closest we have to an authentic recording – but it’s cut, and sometimes sounds like it was recorded underwater, or in a blizzard.

        Then there’s the recording of Jean-Baptiste Faure (yes, him): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63PFdrI3YKo

        Lucie de Lammermoor: there’s one with Alagna and Dessay.

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      1. Okay cool. I should complete my review of Rudenz as well. I remember liking it a lot more than Rohan at least. It is very gothic, and yeah, where else do you get a soprano who “rises from the dead”, three times!

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      2. Die Feen came up – but I might introduce a rule to, in general, only do operas which have a viable recording – and ideally a video. (Unless it’s a composer like Meyerbeer or Offenbach, whom I actually enjoy.)

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      3. Die Feen is a rather interesting work, I’ve heard it from beginning to end three times. It is three hours of pseudo-Weber/Beethoven. The first act finale has traces of the second act finale of Rienzi in it. Probably the most un-Wagnerian Wagner opera excluding Das Liebesverbot. I would suggest Forman’s review of it in “The Good Wagner Opera Guide” if you can get ahold of it. It only gets one star items from him, but I find a couple of pieces in it to be rather good. It does have its drawbacks: far too many characters, collapse of dramatic cohesion at times, too much time is spent on meaningless comic elements, there are times where Wagner could have done a better job with certain numbers (especially in act 1) and simply didn’t. Whereas in his late operas he would pound a melody to death, here there is a lot of untapped material that could have made for an amazing half-dozen operas.

        There are, however, a variety of recordings of various lengths of Die Feen.

        Just remember, it might be written by Wagner but it hardly sounds like Wagner.

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