A.J. Fletcher Institute and North Carolina
School of Arts, January 26, 28 and 30, 2005.
photographs below were taken by Christine Rucker and come courtesy
of the A.J. Fletcher Institute and North Carolina School of
A.J. Fletcher Institute and North Carolina School of Arts recently
made the bold decision to revive Donizetti's Belisario.
Thomas Walker on the Classical Voice of North Carolina site (complete
"Based upon this production of the new critical edition [this was not the critical edition - see below], past commentators
have been wrong to dismiss Belisario as
second-rate Donizetti. William Ashbrook's Donizetti quotes a letter from the composer to
a Paris music publisher: "Belisario is
less thoroughly worked out (than Lucia),
but I know that in the theatre it had an effect...." Compared to Lucia, this opera is more dramatically
compact: the build-up of the tragedy is almost as sure as Puccini's, in Tosca, and the scoring is more consistently
interesting. While there's no mad scene, there is a big juicy part for the
dramatic soprano, a solid part for the mezzo-soprano, and a complex and
wide-ranging role for the baritone. Fine smaller parts for bass and tenor add
spice. With the new critical edition scores now available, perhaps Eve Queler
and her Opera Orchestra of New York will introduce the opera to Carnegie Hall.
It is an ideal opera for music festivals. It is too bad this fine production
could not be taken on tour or released on a DVD."
Nancy Goldsmith's article, reproduced
below, describes, the process of
getting the score and parts was far from simple, many of these for
rare operas existing only in a few opera houses at best and then
sometimes in heavily revised versions. Eventually, this situation
will be remedied by the Donizetti
Critical Edition, although with a prolific
composer like Donizetti this will be quite some time. Fortunately
in this case, Ottavio
Sbragia was just completing a new performing edition of Belisario,
see www.sbragia.info or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also when Buenos Aires Lirica produced Belisario in 2010, Juan Casasbellas created a reduced score of the opera, which is now available for hire. More details on the score here.
The cast and production team were:-
Irene, daughter of Belisario
– Dawn Pierce
Eudora, her confident –
Antonina, wife of Belisario
– Emily Newton
Eutropio, Captain of the
Imperial Guard – John Kawa
Giustiniano, Emperor of Byzantium –
Belisario, Supreme leader of
the Greek Army – Alphonso Cherry
Alamiro, Prisoner of
Belisario – Scott Mize
Eusebio, Jailer –
Ottario, Leader of the Rebel
Troops – Erich Barbera
Centurion, Messenger –
Jamie Allbritten, Music Director
Steven LaCosse, Stage Director
Angela Vanstory Ward, Vocal Preparation
Rob Eastman-Mullins, Set Designer
Emily Lagerquist, Lighting Designer
Brie Furches, Costume Designer
Ashley Leitzel, Wig and Makeup Designer
1 opening scene
Alphonso Cherry as Belisario, Dawn Pierce as Irene
Act III, Scene Two
Jonathan Merritt, Giustiniano
Dawn Pierce, Irene
Emily Newton, Antonina
by Nancy E. Goldsmith
and included in the opera programme
An opera score is merely a series of inert marks on a page
until brought to life by the conductor's baton and the director's vision, but it's
the necessary beginning of any production. For us this year it was a
particularly arduous journey to our starting point.
We had long had the libretto and the piano vocal score
reprint from Kalmus, and the singers began learning their roles. An NCSA staff member
even created a new piano vocal edition in an updated and more legible format.
But we still needed to rent the full score, and our artistic director and
conductor, Jamie Allbritten, turned first to the Ricordi Publishing House of
Milan, one of the oldest in Italy and publisher of great opera composers from Rossini and Donizetti to Verdi and
Puccini. They hold a huge archive of scores including an autograph manuscript
of Belisario, but you can't conduct an
opera from an early nineteenth century manuscript. You need a modern performing
edition with parts for the singers and all the orchestral instruments. Ricordi
is currently working on the critical edition of Donizetti's works, so if anyone
could direct us to the score, they could. They didn't have it, they said, and
referred us to the library of the Donizetti Institute in the composer's home
town of Bergamo.
After emails, phone calls and faxes we finally had an answer: no score. Try Venice.
at Venice's Teatro La Fenice in 1836 following Donizetti's spectacular success with Lucia di Lammermoor. So surely they
would have the score. Opera lovers will recall learning with horror in January
1996 that fire had gutted the great house. The phoenix (La Fenice) finally rose
again from its ashes and re-opened in December 2003, but we learned that many
valuable scores had also been lost in the fire, including Donizetti's Belisario. The helpful librarian there
referred us to La Scala in Milan,
saying "if they don't have it, no one in Italy will have it." We called. They didn't. Back to Venice for other suggestions. The beginning date of rehearsals was drawing closer and
we were becoming somewhat—concerned. Fortunately, many of La Fenice's materials had long
been stored at an archive in Venice called the Fondazione Levi, and the helpful librarian suggested we contact
them. We did and they had a copy! A chorus of joyful shouts echoed through Gray Building on the NCSA campus. The copy was on microfilm and their reader-printer was
broken! The joyful chorus dimmed. We would have had to hire someone to take the
precious microfilm, which ran to about 500 pages, to another institution and
pay to print it out, page by agonizing page. Who had the staff for such a job?
Could it be done on time?
At this point Mr. Allbritten tried another approach.
He contacted one of the leading musicologists in this country for help, Philip Gossett
of the University of Chicago,General Editor of the critical editions of the works of Verdi and Rossini. He
also searched for every recording or performance of Belisario since the fire of 1996. A CD came up with selections from
many of Donizetti's works, including the third act finale of Belisario, issued by a company in London that specialized in rare 19th century opera. Allbritten ordered it
overnighted. When the CD arrived the credit for the finale said "from the
edition by Ottavio Sbragia." This was late one Friday afternoon.
On the following sunny Saturday morning, Mr.Allbritten and I both did independent searches for "Ottavio Sbragia" in
the on-line telephone book of Italy.
We had reason to believe that he lived in Rome,
and while several Sbragias came up in the results, there was only one in Rome.
We discussed it by phone and decided that I should make a cold call. I dialed
Mr. Sbragia's number at about 1:00
p.m. on Saturday night in Rome. I had just started my introduction…"Buona
sera, Signor Sbragia, you don't know me, but I represent a conservatory in Winston-Salem,
NC …"when he interrupted and said, "Ah yes, you're looking for Belisario!" I nearly fell off the
chair. Our odyssey was over. Although I didn't know it at the time, Philip Gossett
had sent an urgent email to Gabriele Dotto, his Italian colleague working on
the critical edition of Donizetti's works for Ricordi, and Dotto had in turn emailed
Sbragia. So Signor Sbragia was not at all surprised to hear from us. After more
calls, emails, and negotiations, a beautiful gift arrived via FedEx from the Eternal City: the
score of Belisario.
And that's just one story from the exciting behind-the-scenes world of opera.
The third act finale referred to above is available on Opera Rara ORR217. The full opera is available on a historic recording
(various labels including Arkadia CDHP 586.2) made in 1969 from La Fenice,
Venice conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni with Leyla Gencer as Antonina and
Renato Bruson as Belisario.