Second Year Anniversary Special: Gaetano Donizetti: Don Gregorio ossa L’ajo nell’imbarazzo (1824/1826)

It is hard to believe it, but Phil’s Opera World has been up for two whole years! Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and to everyone who makes suggestions of operas for be to review! I really appreciate everyone who has reached out to communicate with me and express their thoughts about the operas I review and all of the encouragement I have received.

Thank you,

Phil

And now we will celebrate with a comedy of errors by Donizetti (up next, the story of a certain Noah, and an ark, and a global flood…by Donizetti, just saying!).

Melodramma Giocosa in due atti. Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes (first very long).

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Don Gregorio, the version presented here, was a revision of L’ajo nell’imbarazzo “The Embarrassed Tutor” which was probably the first opera Donizetti wrote that was widely successful. It ran afoul of the censors, however, and changes were made, including the elimination of secco recitatives in favour of semi-random dialogue (entirely new dialogue was written for this production). The recording here is the Dynamic release from 2007.

SETTING: Naples, early 19th century. Marquis Giulio (baritone) tries to keep his two sons Enrico and Pippetto (tenors) ignorant of the opposite sex, resulting in the elder son being found to have a wife (Gilda, soprano) and child and the younger son to become infatuated with the only woman he has ever known, the elderly housekeeper, Leonarda (mezzo-soprano, okay she is really 28) who swears vengeance upon Gregorio. The Don Gregorio of the title is the bass tutor of the two young men who is mistaken as the father of Gilda’s baby when he has to sneak the baby into the house for its feeding time.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (89 minutes)

0: The overture * is a cute little, but very mild, piece, lasting about four minutes. Although a charming introduction for a comic opera, it has no distinctive personality of its own and no “great tune”. It is more like the bark of a chihuahua than the roar of a lion.

Scene: A study room with four doors in Don Giulio’s house, one leading to the bed chamber of the eldest son, Enrico.

4: Mi traduca dal volgare The opening scene ** is an amusing buffo ensemble as Gregorio tries to keep Pippetto at his lessons while he is distracted by Leonarda, who brings in biscuits and milk . It ends very effectively (watch out for the crescendo from the male chorus) as Gregorio insults Leonarda by calling her old and bringing in male servants to remove her from the room. He reveals that he believes the Marquis plans on having the boys remain virgins all their lives.

14: Basso, basso il cor mi dice An aria for Don Giulio * which is saved by its rather refined orchestration. It has a whiff of parody to it from the beginning which it never shakes off. He describes how he does not want his sons to be tormented by sexual love until they are forty because of some rather misogynistic reasons (apparently didn’t stop him from making the two boys?).

22: Le dirò…così…a quattr’occhi A duet for Don Giulio and Don Gregorio ** has excellent orchestration, a mix of dark and lite tones, and is rather amusing as Giulio thinks Gregorio is letting his guard down regarding the “no women allowed” policy. Gregorio reveals two bits of information here: Enrico (the elder son) is twenty-five years old, and he also thinks that allowing the two young men to go to the theatre and parties would be a good idea. Giulio is simply shocked at him, but also enlists him to discover the secret behind why Enrico is more isolated than usual (he hasn’t even arrived for the day’s lessons yet) and Gregorio says he is determined to find out Enrico’s secret.

30: Nel primo fior degl’anni A rather beautiful tenor aria for Enrico *** starts off after a very long orchestral introduction. At first he just feels doom, feeling himself trapped. He doesn’t go into so many words, but he fears that his father will not accept his marriage to Gilda, a noblewoman, nor the fact that Enrico has already fathered a son by her.

37: Come un asino, maestro Pippetto torments Don Gregorio with more Latin grammar in a duet **. Leonarda comes on and reveals her birth certificate stating she is 28 (so why has the Marquis employed her then?).

47: Basta un sguardo Enrico tells Gilda that she has to tell Don Gregorio about the baby and she gives up a “buck up” talk and expresses her slight annoyance that throughout history it is always women who have to clean up after men in a good aria **. The ending is incredibly derivative of Una voce poco fa. Gregorio comes on and Gilda explains the events leading to her marriage to Enrico (also that she is the daughter of a Colonel whose  house just happens to be next door).

55: Come? Come? Gilda foolishly leaves the fact of their child up for Enrico to tell Gregorio but he (Gregorio that is) almost passes out in a rather amazing trio *** in which Gilda realizes that her mission is to free her husband from the clutches of his own father. The Marquis apologizes to Gregorio who goes into an odd story about a poodle given to him by his aunt and then Leonarda comes on to enlist Pippetto’s help in firing Gregory (as vengeance for calling her an old woman).

67: Voi sapete ch’io son figlia A duet for Gilda and Gregorio ** includes something that remotely sounds like the Anvil Chorus from Trovatore, but you really have to be sharp to catch it. Gilda eventually wins over Gregorio.

79, 86: Come mai! Parmi impossibile!/ Vengo, Vengo, Vengo, Vengo The fourteen minute act finale starts with Leonarda and Pippetto, she telling him to reveal Gregorio’s apparent secret sexy doings to his father but Pippetto is terrified of him so she tells him to buck up and think of her. Pippetto tells Don Giulio who freaks and orders Gregorio in on the pretext of claiming he wants his nephew to board in his room *. Leonarda returns to taunt Gregorio, Pippetto to torture him with more Latin grammar, the servants come in with books and other study tools. It is all serviceable but the only other real highlight is the stretta where at least then the pulse starts to race **.

ACT 2: Don Gregorio’s library. (39 minutes)

0: Nella camera soletta Mean old Leonarda breaks in to Gregorio’s rooms and finds Gilda and the two women insult each other. Leonarda accuses Gilda of fancying old men like Gregorio and Gilda claims that if Leonarda wasn’t so old that she would throw herself at any male of the species, young or old. Musically it really isn’t all that interesting but the dialogue is incredibly amusing as the two women fiercely attack each other like feral cats *.

9: Zitta, zitta, non piangete There should be a duet for Gilda and Enrico here but instead there is a dialogue establishing the main conflict of the act namely that the baby needs to be breastfed! Gilda is stuck in Gregorio’s rooms until Don Giulio leaves the house. She attempts to jump out the window but Gregorio tells her not to fear, uncle Gregorio is here! *** To sneak the baby into the house undercover and bring little Bernardino to mamma. Although technically a patter aria it eventually turns into a trio with the parents. Eventually Don Giulio comes in while Gregorio brings in the baby he spills the beans, infuriating Giulio who at first curses Enrico and Gilda. There is supposed to be a trio here for the parents and grandfather but it is apparently cut.

19: Alma rea! Gilda and Enrico try to reason with Don Giulio to forgive them, Gregorio seconds this as he is also in trouble with Giulio **. Leonarda pops in (sneak!)

27: Leonarda che fu? Pippetto and the chorus try to get the scoop from Leonarda *, who is barely able to tell them anything other than that Gilda is definitely not Gregorio’s woman. Eventually Don Giulio forgives Gilda and Enrico and although Pippetto tries to propose marriage to Leonarda she declares that she only led him on to keep him on the straight and narrow so he flies to the basement to cry.

31: Quel tuo sorriso o padre Gilda is happy and embraces her father-in-law (who is also pleased with her now). Don Gregorio and the servants are thrilled that the house has a mistress at long last (apart from Leonarda it was rather a large sausage fest wasn’t it?). Gilda, in an aside, comments to the women in the audience that they should not deny their power: women are born to rule! **

COMMENTS:

This is one of those rare operas where, although I do like it musically, I actually find the plot even more enjoyable than the music. The whole idea of a father trying to keep his sons from learning about sex before they are forty only for one of them to end up a family man and the other a basement dweller is just such a great idea I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more often. The sub-plot in the second act in which the baby needs to be breastfed must be unique in opera as I’ve never heard of such a device being used before or since and yet it seems so obvious! The Gregorio-Leonarda sub-plot with constant attacks on her age is utterly hilarious (he makes her seem eighty), as is her foiled attempt at taking revenge on him. There are three great numbers: Enrico’s aria and his trio with Gilda and Gregorio in act 1, and Gregorio’s aria in act 2 which acts like yet another trio for the three. Gilda’s female-empowerment message at the end (in which she speaks directly to the audience) also has some shock value because it is so unexpected. A fun alpha.

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