Small picture of Donizetti



Donizetti's Le Duc d'Albe

Vlaamse Opera,  Antwerp & Ghent, May 25 - June 2, 2012.

Photographs by Annemie Augustijns, courtesy of Vlaamse Opera.


Le Duc d'Albe is Donizetti's best known unfinished opera, started in 1838 with a libretto from Duvéyrier and Scribe for his move to Paris but then abandoned. The libretto was later offered to Verdi who set it in 1855 as Les Vêpres Siciliennes, perhaps better known in its Italian version, I vespri Siciliani.

In Newsletter 102, Alexander Weatherson, the Society's chairman, described this history and how the opera came to be resurrected and completed by others as an Italian opera, Il duca d'Alba, in 1882, before again disappearing from sight until that score's rediscovery in the 1950's. This article was initially written as programme notes for a 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 .  As well as describing the history, which can be found here, the article also laid out the structure of the opera and its individual numbers, which can be found here,  and the performance history since the 1950's.

In the meantime, any attempt to resurrect the original French version languished until Vlaamse Opera's decision to commission Roger Parker to edit a performing version of the score with new music provided by Giorgio Battistelli to cover the major gaps. Roger Parker has written a commentary on the revised score that can be found here. Reviewing the performance, John McCann (Opera magazine, September 2012, pp.1082-1083) concluded that "At the end of the evening one felt that the opera was now dramatically complete and musically only marginally traduced by Battistelli's contributions."

Alan Jackson, the Society's treasurer, saw the June 2, 2012 performance in Ghent, which he enjoyed a great deal, and has written the following comments.  

Firstly the work itself is impressive, full of dark, sombre music that befits this story set originally in Spanish-occupied Brussels and Anvers in the 16th century. The main characters are Hélène, Henri and the titular Duc. Just before the opera’s action starts, Hélène’s father has been beheaded by the Spanish and the Duc discovers that Henri, a hot-headed Belgian patriot, is his son. With this background the central relationships are played out powerfully. Henri does not understand why he is treated more leniently than his comrades until the Duc reveals himself, when he is torn between patriotism and filial duty/love. Hélène and Henri, lovers at the start, have their relationship fractured when Henri can no longer support her in avenging her father’s death. He ends dying as he intercepts the dagger thrust intended by Hélène for his father.

This production was set in the present, more or less, with the ravages of war, occupation and resistance clearly visible. Because the force of the personal conflicts still came across strongly under the direction of Carlos Wagner, the production still worked for me; the scenic effects, including video projections of an aviation flypast, military statuary, machine guns and nudity (not just Hélène’s father has been killed and somehow the men have lost their clothes as well as their lives), did not get in the way. There are some who see these as clichés of modern opera production, and when they replace detailed direction of the principals the results can be dire. Here they did not, and so the production worked for me - though I would have to agree that it did not add much either.

The new music composed by Giorgio Battistelli included the scene and aria for the Duc that opens the third act and the finale to the last act. For the former, Donizetti did indicate use of the melody of an aria from his Il paria of 1829, and Battistelli stuck with this, providing a spikier version of Salvi’s accompaniment and totally new recitative sections. His completion of the finale struck me as much more radical. For Henri’s death, Donizetti indicated the use of the arioso of the dying Ghino in Pia de’Tolomei. Salvi works this up into a beautiful and powerful ensemble. Battistelli also used this theme, but much speeded up and fragmented. For a few moments I was scandalised - for me the original Pia music is the most achingly beautiful two minutes in the whole of Donizetti’s output - but I was soon riveted by the mosaic of sounds created which seemed to me very beautiful and very apt for the scene of a dying man. Donizetti planned a closing aria for the Duc (Scribe’s words exist) and Battistelli composed this afresh in his own idiom. Much more dissonant than Donizetti of course, but I found it moving.

Of the singers, Rachel Harnisch (Hélène) was announced as still ill but singing - she warmed up as the evening progressed - and George Petean (the Duc) and Marc Laho (Henri) were both very fine. No great voices, but a musical, committed ensemble under the admirable conducting of Paolo Carignani.


The Team


Hélène d'Egmont - Rachel Harnisch

Henri de Bruges - Ismael Jordi / Marc Laho

Le Duc d'Albe - George Petean

Sandoval - Vladimir Baykov

Daniel - Igor Bakan

Carlos - Gijs Van der Linden

Un Tavernier - Stephan Adriaens



Musical direction - Paolo Carignani

Director - Carlos Wagner

Set design - Alfons Flores

Lighting - Fabrice Kebour

Costumes - A.F. Vandevorst

Video -  Alfons Flores, Pablo Castillo (3D animation), Carles Berga (editing)

Chorus master - Yannis Pouspourikas


Koor van de Vlaamse Opera

Symfonisch Orkest van de Vlaamse Opera



© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

The Flemish show short-lived aggression towards their Spanish occupiers





© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

Daniele's brewery






© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

An example of the 3D graphics





  © Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

The Duke and Henri





© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

Hélène and Henri





© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

Hélène, the Duke and Henri



© Vlaamse Opera/Annemie Augustijns

The Duke kneels over his dead son




Page initially published in  2012