Opera in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes.
I must have Stockhausen Syndrome or something because I’ve decided to review as many Donizetti operas as I possibly can just to see how many of them are real duds and how many I’ll like. This is considered to be his “most taut melodrama”. That waits to be seen.
And yes, Maria Padilla will be showing up soon, I’ve already started on it.
SETTING: Paris, early 17th century. Maria is in love with Riccardo, le Comte de Chalais but has been forcibly married to Enrico, duc de Chevreuse, who is in trouble with Cardinal Richelieu. Both men get into a fight with Richelieu’s nephew Armando, prompting a duel and the eventual exposure of Maria’s prior romance with Chalais, which she decides foolishly to rekindle, partially as a result of her former lover aiding in the successful pardoning of her husband.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: A garden in the Palais de Louvre. (51 minutes)
0, 12, 21, 26, 31, 36, 41, 46, 49: The overture is a long orchestral piece with a racing finish *. It is followed by a mild opening chorus (starts with women, then men) and a series of monologues and dialogues that introduce the most important characters (such as they are): Riccardo receives a note (obviously from Maria), prompting an aria *, the only particularly interesting thing about it being a high note. Maria comes on amid orchestra angst and gets her moment ** after pleading with Riccardo to help her win pardon for Enrico. She receives it in the form of yet another letter and is, if not overjoyed, and least cheerful * and goes on about it for some time. The arrival of Armando, Richelieu’s nephew and a conceited contralto trouser role (which was originally a tenor part), slightly heats things up *. Enrico is very grateful to Riccardo for the pardon in a nice cavatina *. A solo viola comes in, adding a good effect *, it is the best number so far. All that is left is the act finale, which, for once, is a charming piece **. The stretta is pretty standard stuff * as the two men in Maria’s life get in trouble with Armando, who insults Maria’s honour, challenging them both to a duel.
ACT 2: A room in the place of the Comte de Chalais. (36 minutes)
5, 8, 17, 25, 29: After a brief prelude and a recitative in which he declares (to his unhearing mother) that they will both soon sleep eternally (be dead) Riccardo’s aria rather nice aria **. He has prepared a love letter for Maria to be delivered to her along with her portrait that he has retained, in case of his death. Armando arrives and embarks on a boring little ditty *. Maria arrives and informs Chalais that Richelieu is back in the King’s favour and that, as he saved her husband’s life, she must save his because Richelieu wants him to be executed. Enrico arrives, Maria hides, the two rival males embark on a mutual duet * which takes on a lovely tune in Maria’s declaration of love ** and the exchange with Riccardo immediately following. Riccardo’s declaration ** sparks the second duet and the end of the act, a much better one than the first. This has caused him to be late, and Chevreuse is injured as a result of his duel.
ACT 3: A room in the palace of the duc de Chevreuse. (46 minutes)
0, 3, 4, 13, 20, 22, 25, 31, 36, 39, 40, 45: Another prelude * is followed by an interaction between the three principles: Chevreuse promises to get Chalais across the border pronto, prompting a mild aria from Maria * which turns into a duet with Chalais **. Meanwhile a courtier has broken into Chalais’ desk and found a letter written to Maria and her portrait. Chevreuse returns, not knowing any of this, and tells Chalais to make ready to escape, a horse is at the ready. Maria’s prayer ** is preceded by a clarinet solo followed by a jovial cabaletta *. Chevreuse greets the reveal of his wife’s betrayal (he is given the letter and portrait from Chalais’ effects) in a rather beautiful aria *** in two parts ***. Maria has apparently attempted to flee with Chalais through the escape tunnel in the palace. Maria’s failure has prompted Chalais to return and confront Chevreuse. At first the final trio is a duet between husband and wife ** which becomes more and more frightening although the accompaniment remains minimal until an outburst from Maria **. Chalais eventually returns looking for Maria and he is challenged to a duel with Chevreuse **. The two men go off, shots are fired, Chalais has killed himself. Chevreuse, now knowing what his wife is, condemns her to a life of infamy and deserts her in the most strikingly non-bel canto finale of any bel canto era opera *.
I am willing to concede that my problem with this opera might just be this production, but it makes little case for the opera. The plot is rather pastel (it really is just a love triangle with some rather mindless and often contradictory political complications, generally involving Cardinal Richelieu), and so is most of the music. The first act is very slow and I frankly don’t think I understand it musically. I know what is going on, but the music is extremely mellow. The second act is an improvement musically, although far less happens dramatically. The third act is better still, yet even though this type of costume melodrama is usually my favourite, I find myself ultimately dissatisfied with this opera. In my personal opinion it is a gamma with a great baritone aria and a strikingly brief ending, but I am sure there are those who think this is a forgotten alpha.