Small picture of Donizetti



The “hache sanglante” of the Duke of Alba

Part 2 - The structure and numbers of the opera

Alexander Weatherson

The second part of an article that appeared in Newsletter 102, October 2007, pp. 17-21.
The first part, a history of the opera can be found here and the performance history since 1950 here.


The structure of the opera holds few surprises. Act I, set in the Grand Place of Brussels consists of an Introduction, an entrance aria for the prima donna, a trio for Amelia, Daniele and the Duke, and a duet for the Duke and Marcello. Act II, set in the Brasserie of Daniele, is predominantly choral, there is another aria for Amelia, a duet for Amelia and Marcello and ends with a concertato. Act III set within a room in the Hotel de Ville of Brussels with a view over the Grand Place opens with an aria for the Duke, followed by a duet for the Duke and Marcello, there is a trio for Marcello, the Duke and Sandoval, and it ends with a quartet and concertato, while Act IV is set in Amelia’s Oratory with the big aria for Marcello, followed by a duet for Marcello and Amelia, after which the scene changes to the Port of Anvers; there is a chorus, a march, an arioso of farewell for the Duke. the attempted assassination, and the tragic ending with its wholly irresistible trio-finale and choral envoi. These last two acts including some music selected by Donizetti himself from his earlier operas but very extensive tailoring by other hands.

As a whole Il duca d’Alba conforms effortlessly to the spectacular receipe expected of grand opéra in the Paris of his day, except that the mandatory ballet - projected to follow the Introduction to Act I - is missing, the allotted pages in the autograph manuscript are blank (so it would seem that the music was never composed - rather than that the ballet music was re-appropriated for use elsewhere). In detail there are surprises: large sections of the livret by Scribe were never set to music, it would seem that the literary integrity proposed by the poet got short shift from the composer at the very start and that a predictable series of romantic Italian set-pieces with elaborate repetitions took its place even at the earliest stages of composition. Thus the progress of Donizetti towards a Parisian modus vivendi was less in evidence than might have been expected. True, the major arias in Il duca d’Alba are much plainer than usual, there is very little fioriture, and even in the Italian version recitatives tend to be declamatory (but few of these were written by Donizetti!). What vocal elaboration there is, is transparently the work of Salvi and his trio of experts. It is clear that Donizetti made considerable efforts to blunt those self-indulgent Italianate cabalette likely to upset French sensibility but, in Il duca d’Alba Salvi simply put them back in the score, and with an almost indecent enthusiasm (and with the unhappy side-effect in our day that cabalette or strette actually composed by Donizetti have been eliminated by eager-beaver revisori )

A breakdown of the above items is as follows:

Act I

Coro d’Introduzione
‘Espagne, Espagne...O mon pays! Je bois ˆ toi!’ (the Scribe original text)
'Espagna, Espagna...o suol natal, io brindo a te!’ (Salvi)
[usually reduced to a fragment in modern performances]

Cavatina Amelia
‘Au sein des mers et battu par l’orage’ (Scribe)
‘In seno al mar, preda all’atra tempesta’(Salvi)
[an elaborate vocal sequence supplied by Scribe and set by Donizetti, including a cantabile, a tempo-di-mezzo and a cabaletta ‘Coll’audacia l’uom risponda’ with a vast choral reprise divided by a staccato choral bridge-passage, this second section almost invariably cut in modern editions of the opera despite the fact that it is mostly original Donizetti]

Terzetto Duca /Amelia/Daniele
‘Race faible et poltronne’ (le Duc) (Scribe)
‘Popol flacco, vil, abbietto’ (Duca) (Salvi)

[Scribe envisages a quartet to follow  this between the Duc/Henri/Daniel/Hélène but this has been eliminated in the Salvi score]

Duetto Duca/Marcello
‘Punis mon audace!’(Henri) /’J’aime son audace’ (Le Duc) (Scribe)
‘Un vil io non sono’(Marcello) /’Dei baldi ardimenti’ (Duca) (Salvi)
[Donizetti has compacted the two main sections of Scribe’s text into one cantabile but has set the stretta conceived by Scribe]

‘Je suis libre et sur la terre’(Henri) /’Téméraire! Téméraire! Par le ciel, obéis moi’ (le Duc) (Scribe)
‘Di me stesso io son signore’(Marcello) /’Di perdono torna degno. Obbedir tu devi a me!. (Duca) (Salvi)


Act II

‘Liqueur traitresse’ (Scribe)
‘Liquor, che inganna’ (Salvi)
[This chorus, merely sketched in the autograph but completed by Salvi, is, with slight variations, repeated frequently in this act as in Scribe’s original]

Scena e terzettino della Ronda
[This is a fleeting trio, often cut, but unmistakeably by Donizetti]

Aria Amelia
‘Ton ombre murmure, ô mon père’ (Scribe)
‘Ombra paterna, a me perdona’ (Salvi)
[Donizetti composed this touching Romance in accordance with Scribe’s text, that is, without a cabaletta but with a contrasting centre-section]

Duetto Amelia/Marcello
‘Oui longtemps en silence’(Hélène/Henri) (Scribe)
‘Ah!si,l’ardente affanno.(Marcello)‘Anch’io pietade eguale’(Amelia) (Salvi)
[Scribe’s text proposes many quasi-unison passages between the lovers, these survive only in the jaunty stretta to this duet but whose music is improbably by Donizetti

‘Noble martyr de la patrie’ (Hélène/Henri) (Scribe)
‘Del patrio suolo’ (unison Marcello/Amelia) (Salvi)]

Concertato: (Scena della congiura)
‘Les derniers feux meurent dans l’ombre’ (Trio et choeur) (Scribe)
‘E spenta omai l’estrema face’ (Terzetto con coro) (Salvi)

‘Des armes...Des armes...Nous le jurons’ (Tous) (Scribe)
‘Dell’armi! ah si... dell’armi...Noi lo giuriamo’ (Tutti) (Salvi)
[This oath-taking scene is the longest concerted scene of the opera, its principal themes are certainly by Donizetti - the Hymn to Liberty is derived from Maria Stuarda - but much elaborated, orchestrated, and augmented by other hands, it is followed by the arrival of the Duke’s soldiers and the arrest of the dissidents.]



Aria Duca
‘Au sein de la puissance’ (Duc) (Scribe)
‘Nei miei superbi gaudi’ (Duca) (Salvi)
[The beautiful introduction and recitative that precedes this important aria were not supplied by Donizetti; the vocal line of the cantabile ‘Nei miei superbi gaudi’ was derived by Donizetti from the cantabile of the aria of Zarete ‘Qui pel figlio una madre gridava’ from Il paria (1829) whose emotional substance presumably struck a chord when he was composing Le Duc d’Albe so many years later, Salvi apparently based the missing orchestration of this cantabile upon the score of Il paria. Scribe conceived this aria as a Romance in three strophe, the Salvi/Zanardini version of
Il duca d’Alba has added an unconvincing cabaletta ‘Mi arridon vittorie’]

Duetto Duca/Marcello
‘Je venais pour braver sa rage’ (Henri) (Scribe)
‘Ne volea sfidar lo sdegno’ (Marcello) (Salvi)
[The Duke shows his son the letter from his dead mother]

Toi. qui n’épargnes rien, si ta hache sanglante,
Rencontre Henri de Bruge, honneur de son pays,
Epargne au moins cette tête innocente,
C’est celle de ton fils!’

Tu, per cui nulla è sacro - se la fatal scure
Scontra Marcel di Bruge - onor del patrio suol,
Risparmia il capo suo - è quel del tuo figlio!’

[Sections missing from this duet in the autograph were in fact present in the collection of Donizetti papers assembled by Charles Malherbe - now in the Bibliothèque Nationale - which appears to have been used by Salvi to complete his version of the music, but the whole is much shorter than the Scribe original]

Terzetto Marcello/Duca/Sandoval
‘O sort fatal! O peine extrème’ (Henri)
‘Oh sorte ria! - fatal martoro!’ (Marcello)
[This trio of consternation on the part of Marcello, pity on the part of the Duke, and anger on that of Sandoval, has been amplified once again, it would appear, using sketches in the Malherbe collection]

Quartetto and Concertato /Tutti
‘Terrible lumière’ (Hélène, Daniel, Conjures)
‘Squarciato è il mistero!’ (Amelia, Daniele e i Congiurati)
[The vocal line of the autograph has been inordinately extended,also making use of material to be found in the Malherbe collection]


Act IV

Aria Marcello
‘Ange des cieux’ (Henri) (Scribe)
‘Angelo casto e bel’ (Marcello) (Salvi)
[‘Ange des cieux’ having been taken out of the unfinished score to become ‘Ange si pur’ in La Favorite, its replacement has been the ex-novo ‘Angelo casto e bel’, which together with its highly effective prelude and recitative, is one of the very few items in Il duca d’Alba that has no Donizettian source: its real author is not known]

Duetto Marcello/Amelia
‘Ecoute un instant ma prière’ (Henri) (Scribe)
‘Ascolta! Ascolta!’ (Marcello) (Salvi)
[The duet is present in the autograph manuscript but without recitative or orchestration]

‘O rive chérie/De l’Andalousie’ (Scribe)
‘Qual vaga fanciulla’ (Salvi)
[Not composed by Donizetti who has merely noted possible themes]

Arietta Duca
‘Je pars! Adieu donc ma conquête’ (Duc) (Scribe) [Originally:‘Je pars adieu donc’]
‘Addio! addio, conquistata mia terra’ (Duca) (Salvi)
[Vocal line only composed by Donizetti]

Finale ultimo (Marcello/Ameilia/Duca)
‘La gloire vous appelle...L’Espagne vous attend’ (Henri) (Scribe)
‘Con le tue labbra aflorami’ (Marcello) (Salvi)
[The theme of the arioso for the dying Marcello was recycled by Donizetti from the arioso of the dying Ghino in Act II of Pia de’Tolomei (1837), but both he and Scribe intended an aria finale for the Duc to follow it, a larghetto ‘Mon fils, Espoir de ma vieillesse’ an aria not present in the Salvi version of the opera but the autograph music of which exists in outline in the Bibliothèque Nationale, seemingly detached from the score in the Casa Ricordi. As a compensation, the final imprecations of the Duca and the joy of the Flemish throng at his departure are more virulent and effective in Il duca d’Alba than in Scribe’s original]




Page initially published in  2007