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The “hache sanglante” of the Duke of Alba

Part 3 - The opera's performance history since the 1950's

Alexander Weatherson

The third part of an article that appeared in Newsletter 102, October 2007, pp. 21-22.
The first part, a history of the opera can be found here and the structure and numbers of the opera here.

 

Performance history insists that it was under the baton of Fernando Previtali that the treasured score of Il duca d’Alba was brought back to life, complete, in a concert performance in that same city of Rome where it had been discovered on that famous market stall, on 12 January 1952. But this is far from correct. That rebirth version was already abridged, the opera was given in three acts, not four, its two opening acts with musical roots undoubtedly by Donizetti were compressed; there were important omissions, indeed it was cut to pieces, large sections were missing, repeats and strettas were absent almost throughout the opera, the coro ‘Liquor, che inganna’ for example, opening Act II (here called Act I), had been replaced by an orchestral interlude (composed by whom?), the dialogue leading to Amelia’s ‘Ombra paterna’ was abbreviated into inexistence as was half of the finale to Act III (here called Act II), and so on and on. Worse, most of the more felicitous orchestral touches of the Salvi realisation were simply eliminated, together with the whole of the key aria ‘Angelo casto e bel’ (a piece encored at the 1882 prima) which was replaced crudely by ‘Spirto gentil’ (‘Ange si pur’) i.e. the tenor showpiece removed by Donizetti from the manuscript score for insertion into La Favorite.

The whole, despite the musicality of Maestro Previtali turned out to be the worst kind of omen for the future of Il duca d’Alba. Indeed, it was this manipulated initial revival that encouraged the American conductor Thomas Schippers to make an even more radical reduction. At the Teatro Nuovo of Spoleto on 11 June 1959 was staged a further purported revival of the Donizetti/Salvi opera, again in three acts, the orchestra reduced throughout to “Donizettian” sound-bites (as though the Paris Opéra of his day would have been deficient in instrumentation), with preludes and recitatives dropped (the Duke began his cantabile ‘Nei miei superbi gaudi’ of Act III - now Act II - without any introduction whatsoever), and pared-down codas. ‘Spirto gentil’ once again making an inappropriate appearance in place of ‘Angelo casto e bel’. This 1959 cut-price version outlined the merest skeleton of the composer’s musical plan, Mr Schippers, it would seem, had no taste for grand-opéra and tried to rewrite Donizetti’s score as if it was a melodramma romantico such as he might have composed some ten years before his Paris adventure.

Alas it was this edition of Il duca d’Alba that began to circulate. There was a handful of stagings some of them, like that of Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie of Brussels in 1979, enhanced by the magnificent 1882 sets of Carlo Ferrario which had miraculously survived two wars in storage in Italy, replete with a wonderful depiction of the Grand Place in Brussels (big applause) and with the singers in late-nineteenth-century costumes blighted by inauthentic music and travestied action (but with ‘Angelo casto e bel’).

Now and then in the next years there were revivals by organisations unhappy with the wholesale betrayal of the music of this beautiful opera and where attempts were made - not entirely consistantly - to correct the situation, like that at New York, for example, under the baton of Eve Queler in 1985 where there were cuts galore but also the restitution of many of the more characterful sections of the Salvi score. The situation was not to be rectified completely until there was a further attempt, once more at the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto (Festival dei Due Mondi) on July 1, 1992, this time under the baton of Alberto Maria Giuri, when the Donizetti/Salvi Il duca d’Alba finally made an appearance in an edition at last musically worthy of its original dimensions and dramatic character, far more complete now, the Duca d’Alba sung by Alan Titus, Marcello by César Hernàndez, Amelia by Michaela Sburiati, Sandoval by Marco Pauluzzo and Carlo by Dennis Petersen. More than forty years in fact after Previtali’s momentous discovery, Giovannina Lucca’s posthumous enterprise finally reached modern ears.

 

To the above may now be added, the concert performance of the opera as part of the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon using the first modern comprehensive 1882 version and given in the Opéra Berlioz-Le Corum on Monday, July 16, 2007.  It was conducted by Enrique Mazzola; with Inva Mula (Amelia), Franck Ferrari (Duca), Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Marcello), Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Sandoval) and  Mauro Corna (Daniele) with the Orchestre National de Montpellier.  The performance has been subsequently issued on CD by Accord 480 0845. This has now been followed by the staged performance of  the reconstructed original French version, Le Duc d'Albe,  in May/June 2012 by Vlaamse Opera described here.

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