Gaetano Donizetti: Betly, ossia La campanna svizzera (1836)

Opera giocosa (original one-act version with spoken dialogue). Running Time: 1 hour 2 minutes.


LINK to TRACK LIST: (includes Le Convenienze teatrali afterwards, I may get it it at some point and add it to this post).

I want something bright and witty, and not already done by Sir Denis Forman (I hate doing rehashes of his reviews, it defeats the purpose of my blog!) so here is a short work with similarities to L’elisir d’amore, based on a libretto by Scribe for Auber (1834’s Le Chalet) which in turn was based on an 1780 singspiel by Goethe.

SETTING: Appenzell, Switzerland, 1790s. Daniele (tenor) is a timid landowner in love with Betly (soprano), the free spirited chalet owner and sister of army Corporal Max (baritone) whom she has not seen in five years and apparently does not recognize when he billets his troops in the chalet. Max decides to help Daniele win Betly over to the idea of marriage and she decides that although being unmarried gives her independence, she also needs protection, and Daniele provides her with that.


0, 5, 7: The opening chorus ** is a placid countryside number without any pretensions to being “Swiss” in the style of Sonnambula or Luisa Miller. They pick up speed but then encounter the unassertive Daniele who sings a charming arietta **. which develops into an dapper wedding invitation aria *** with the chorus (who are trying to make him believe that his beloved Betly wants to become Mrs. Daniele with the aid of a fake love letter presumably from Betly to Daniele). There is an overture, written for the two-act version. It is about four minutes long and is mostly in a mild military parade style. It can be found elsewhere on YouTube, especially on the Donizetti Overtures video.

11: Betly’s entrance aria **, is followed by some character explanation about Max and Daniele getting a let down on marriage with Betly.

20: Max arrives with his troops to an agreeable march, and then we enter a cavatina for Max **, with the soldiers providing some nice choral background. Max meets Daniele who updates him on the marital status of his sister (or rather the lack there of) and Max promises to help Daniele win over Betly.

28, 30: The soldiers have a good time ** revelling Max’ orders to ramshackle Betly’s chalet as they check in. Betly’s arrival also elevates the number into a grand Rossinian comic opera climax *** which in the two-act version is the first act finale.

37: Betly is terrified: Max has told her that if he and his men are satisfied, the entire regiment will arrive in 15 days and will be billeted in the chalet (naturally there is hardly enough room for the troop, much less a regiment). Betly begs Daniele to stay with her that day in order to keep the soldiers in line. They embark on a duet **.

45, 50: Max pretends to be drunk and mildly assaults his sister in order to get her to scream for Daniele. It works and Max demands a duel at midnight with Daniele in a sinister comic duet ** which totally fools Betly into thinking there really will be a duel. It takes on a military aspect as the two men start to fence ***.

55: Daniele tries to make Betly believe that there will be no duel, but Max returns and threatens that only he would only be willing to call off the duel if Daniele were married. Betly then claims that Daniele is her husband, and what is more the father of her apparently non-present children. To prove it she signs a marriage license which Daniele has already signed in anticipation of his dashed marriage to her earlier. She tells him that it isn’t legal unless her brother Max signs it (as he is her legal guardian) but Max signs it as soon as it is handed to him, legally marrying Daniele and Betly, all that is left is a religious ceremony. Betly confesses her love for Daniele in a lovely final cavatina ***.


Operas like this restore my faith in humanity! Although some might find the anti-feminist conclusion uneasy, it makes a valid point: Betly would never be able to take on an entire troop of men much less a regiment billeted in her chalet! This is a life affirming work without being philosophical or natalist. In particular it takes many of the themes of L’elisir d’amore (timid tenor, free-spirited landowning independent soprano “tamed” by love, soldier baritone) but with some of the more uneasy elements, like the alcohol peddling quack and the fact that Adina changes her mind about Nemorino when he inherits a large fortune from his uncle, removed. Here we get the three main characters without any filler, just a chorus of Swiss townsfolk and soldiers. There isn’t even a real triangle as the baritone is the soprano’s brother. With a score so compact, it is basically impossible to find lulls in the music as one finds at times in L’elisir. Like Nemorino’s love for Adina, Daniele’s love for Betly never comes off as predatory in the slightest and if anything they are both rather sweet and gentle figures, a fact that places them both on the list of endearingly adorable tenor roles. The only thing that could make this better would be if I could hear the two-act revision as it has about twenty-five more minutes of music and recitatives instead of spoken dialogue, (I never thought I would use the words “spoken dialogue” when talking about an Italian opera!), but seeing that this was originally a one-act opera, I won’t complain too much. I will admit that although I recognize L’elisir d’amore as a great opera, I’m not in love with it as I am with Betly. A mini-alpha plus.

With any luck Bizet’s La jolie fille de Perthe will be coming soon. Also Amahl and the Night Visitors will be coming out on December 1.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: