Gaetano Donizetti: Imelda de’Lambertazzi (1830) Revised

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


(Imelda and Bonifacio by Pacifico Buzio, housed at the Museo Civico, Pavia, Lombardy, Wikimedia)

This opera was such a failure at its premiere that half the score ended up being reused by Donizetti in his next opera Anna Bolena, as well as Ugo, Conte di Parigi, and Parisina. So if it sounds familiar, that is why. Much of the score is rather ahead of its time, more anticipatory than other Donizetti scores from the same era which sound more like Rossini than awaiting Verdi. 

SETTING: Bologna, 16th century.  A variant on the Romeo and Juliette story (yes, I know) in which the Guelph Lambertazzi family and the Ghibelline Geremei family could be reconciled through the marriage of the Geremei heir Bonifacio (baritone) and the Lambertazzi daughter Imelda (mezzo-soprano?) (a love match), but instead tragedy ensues involving a poisoned dagger apparently owned by Imelda’s brother Lamberto (tenor). Do not expect a resolution to the bloodshed after the lovers are both dead, her brother just says she got what she deserved. (See why this thing failed?)



ACT 1: (66 minutes)

Scene 1: A Piazza before the Lambertazzi palace.

1, 11: All’armi!/Ah! soda lo squillo The brief prelude sets us up for tragedy (there is one figure from the violins in particular which will sound familiar to Donizetti enthusiasts), followed by an effective opening chorus ** which switches gears and reaches an effective climax. Orlando Lambertazzi comes on with his son Lamberto (both tenors, just to confuse us) and declares that there will be no peace between the Lambertazzi and the Geremei, which is greeted by no one as everyone else in the city wants peace. A good trio con coro for the Lambertazzi men and their henchman Ubaldo ** which goes on for about four minutes, details that the two families’ conflict is not just political but also personal: the father of the Geremei heir (Bonifacio) was implicated in the murder of the wife of Orlando Lambertazzi.

Scene 2: An apartment in the palace.

21, 24: Amarti, e nel martoro/Ma il ciel non ode Imelda comes on to a furious prelude. Her cavatina ** is a little barebones in terms of orchestral technique but vocally rather remarkable (also notice how low the role’s tessitura is, more mezzo than soprano). The cabaletta is a bit more ferocious **. 

31: Non sai qual periglio After much fury, the Imelda-Bonifacio duet ** takes on a much more lyrical and loving tone (which makes sense since this is the love duet).  This eventually gives way to a greater dramatic intensity as their thoughts turn to the situation they find themselves. They get a little more amorous before parting (this appears to have ended up in Parisina). The scene ends with a series of recitative exchanges between the male characters.

Scene 3: An atrium in the palace.

46: Del cittadino al dritto The scene starts with an orchestra interlude (the same melody is used at the opening of Ugo, Conte di Parigi) and a fine chorus (later used for the party chorus in act 2 in Parisina). This is worth looking out for just for how Donizetti originally paired the two concepts *. 

53, 57, 61: Sollevar le chiome/Imelda, tu!/Vanne mi attendi  Bonifacio makes an offer (marriage to Imelda) which the Lambertazzi can refuse prompting a furious (if brief) ensemble **, Lamberto in particular takes offence to this and attacks Bonifacio *.  The stretta * sounds too happy to work properly (although it will show up in Ugo).

ACT 2: (56 minutes)

Scene 1: Imelda’s apartments in the palace.

3: Geremei! Qual nome! Doomful orchestral introduction leads to a duet ** between Imelda and her brother Lamberto in which the latter realizes that Bonifacio’s proposal of marriage to Imelda was based on a mutual attraction between the two and not just Bonifacio’s idea of solidifying a peace between the two families. He claims to have killed Bonifacio, causing his sister to reveal her love, then tells her that he has lied and orders her to break with their family’s bitter enemy at once, swearing to kill her if she continues as she pleads for mercy. 

11: After a very nice orchestral introduction *, there is a patch of recitative in which the male Lambertazzi intercept a letter from Bonifacio to Imelda, detailing plans for an elopement (not a surprise, really).

Scene 2: A forest at night near the Geremei camp.

16: A strong orchestral backing for a standard sotto voce chorus of military types **.

22: Imelda a me volgea Bonifacio’s aria *** starts off with an oboe solo and a slow section. It does speed up  but watch especially for the chorus here, combined with the orchestral effects it is the best moment so far in the opera. 

Scene 3: Garden of the Lambertazzi palace.

33, 37: Deh, cedi a chi t’adora Another good prelude * (clarinet emphasized) it shows up in Ugo. Imelda awaits Bonifacio but encounters her brother Lamberto instead in one of the most sedate violent encounters in all opera. Bonifacio eventually arrives and after a long while a duet develops ** in which she reveals that his father has just been killed in a clash between their two factions. It gets better in the final movements as Bonifacio takes up his sword, intending to kill Lamberto and leaves. Lamberto comes on with a blood dagger and admits to having stabbed Bonifacio with it and it is poisoned. The wound itself would probably have been fatal in itself (it is just below Bonifacio’s heart). Imelda decides to try to suck the poison out of the wound.

Scene 4: Same as act 1 scene 1.

51: Padre, son rea, lo vedo The Ghibelline’s are murdering Guelphs as the curtain rises, there is a porto-wagnerian brass ornament before Imelda arrives on the scene, dying from after effects of the poison ***. This is the first moment in the opera of totally believable pathos as she staggers about pleading with her father for forgiveness (refused), unfortunately it is also the the last moment in the opera.


0, 4: There is one final number, an alternate ending for Imelda consisting of a standard (eight minute) aria-finale which was added to the opera after the first production. She still dies at the end, but it is an expanded death scene. At first slow *, it lightens up into an oddly happy cabaletta * with some lovely coloratura flourishes. The final minute on the video is just silent filler.


This opera is good. Certainly it doesn’t deserve the extreme case of neglect it has experienced. At the same time, it isn’t great by any definition. The plot is, well, there isn’t much of one to be honest. This, probably more than the music, is the reason for the opera’s failure. It is far too conventional, and although the pacing is good, what is any of it leading towards? As in Cilea’s Gloria, the heroine’s brother and father are hellbent on revenge so blindly that they really can’t see beyond their own noses. Donizetti’s musical pacing (already mentioned) is probably the opera’s saving grace. The acts are two almost perfectly constructed halves, so that the opera’s eight musical number never outstay their welcome. But they contain no memorable tunes, certainly nothing that sticks in my mind after listening to the opera, even if the score is consistently of a very good quality. There are two great moments: the end of Bonifacio’s act 2 aria (with chorus) and when Imelda staggers about at the end. The orchestration is rather interesting, especially the woodwind solos Donizetti throws in to some of the preludes and interludes. At moments it even presents a dramatic sense which will not become dominate in Italian opera for another decade. It is an experimental work: there is no overture, nor even a real prelude, and the act one finale is not in concertato format.  Like a lot of experimental operas, it just did not quite make it. An alpha minus. 

3 responses to “Gaetano Donizetti: Imelda de’Lambertazzi (1830) Revised”

  1. Well, at least you think it’s good! I like its concentrated intensity; it certainly deserves to be better known.


    1. It is concentrated, the plot is so simple it would be impossible to remove any of the elements. The score is definitely experimental, but I really didn’t find it all that tuneful.

      I’m thinking about doing all of Donizetti’s operas, or at least all of the post-1830 operas. I just find him so hit and miss that I need to just do all of them!


      1. I’ve heard it a few times, so I’m more familiar with the tunes!


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