Small picture of Donizetti



Donizetti's The Siege of Calais (L'assedio di Calais)

English Touring Opera, March 9 - May 21, 2013.

Photographs © Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy of English Touring Opera


Photographs from a new production of The Siege of Calais (L'assedio di Calais) that was given as part of English Touring Opera's Spring 2013 tour.  The production, the first professional British one,  used a two act version that omitted the third act.  Alexander Weatherson, the Society chairman, has provided the following note on this new edition.

It would take the resistance of all six Burghers of Calais to deny that Donizetti found Act III of his L’assedio di Calais to be anything but an anti-climax,  diminishing the effect of his utterly inspired earlier music in order to supply a birthday celebration for the Queen Mother of Naples (whose name he borrowed in that act  for the wife of Edward III).

He plotted changes almost immediately the celebration was over and all the insertion marks and cuts for a reduction of the opera into two acts are fully in existence.  It was the composer who proposed to move the King to a place immediately after the Act I Introduzione thus negating the original happy ending.  That he never quite made up his mind how to formulate the final dénouement of the opera is equally factual but the use of the original finale primo as finale ultimo makes real dramatic sense.   The Burghers thus appear at the end as they do in Rodin’s sculpture making their heartrending  stand against cruel fate.

This two-act edition is more concentrated and shorter than the version in three acts, there is no ballet or birthday high jinks,  but it puts into a much higher profile all of Donizetti’s truly remarkable music according to his own wishes.

In addition to taking heed of Donizetti's idea to move Edoardo's aria from the third to the first act, ETO also moved the Act III ensemble, "Raddopia I baci tuoi", to just before the final prayer in Act II in order to broaden the sense of personal as well as community loss.

Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph ( March 11, 2013 ) gave it 4 stars and, while having some reservations about the loss of the third act and the modern setting, praised both singers and orchestra ending with "Robust, virile and emotionally charged, this is yet another Donizetti opera which proves those upturned noses [of the cognoscenti] unjustified".  William Hartson (The Express, March 20, 2013) was also very impressed commenting that "Yet it is in the quality of the singing and acting that this ETO production is most impressive" and summarising "Revivals of forgotten opera always run the risk of demonstrating why they were forgotten in the first place, but this revival of Donizetti's siege is a real success and the ETO deserve our thanks and congratulations". However, George Hall (The Guardian, March 11, 2013) was rather less happy with it mainly on account of the removal of the final act although he found much to like in the singing and commented that "Jeremy Silver conducts a capable performance, in which Donizetti's score – or at least what remains of it – holds the attention".

The following is a comment on the performance at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter on March 22, 2013,  by Russell Burdekin.

The libretto by Salvatore Cammarano is based on the story of the six burghers of Calais who volunteered to be executed in order to raise the siege by Edward III of England.  The scene was well set with a hodgepodge of rags, a large tube and various other bits and pieces that gave an air of desperation and deprivation, which has become all too familiar on our news screens.  The opening scene was the most awkward with an unconvincing portrayal of Aurelio's attempt at stealing and then escape followed up by the chorus milling around rather too energetically while Edoardo was singing his aria (moved from the missing third act).  However, once this was out of the way, the production rarely put a foot wrong and gathered drama and pathos as it moved towards its downbeat conclusion with the six burghers going off for execution and the happy ending, when in reality they were all pardoned, failing to materialise. The singing, while possibly not touching the heights of bel canto, was very good with the duet between Aurelio (Helen Sherman) and Eleonora (Paula Sides) particularly striking.  Some nice work also from the orchestra under Jeremy Silver.  

Alan Jackson, the Society treasurer, saw the performance at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on  March 27, 2013 and has written a short note.

The performance of L’assedio di Calais in Norwich on March 27th, 2013 was beset by sick baritones. The advertised Eustachio, Eddie Wade, was too ill to perform as was his cover Matthew Sprange. So director James Conway (who is also ETO’s General Director) acted the part on stage, while Cozmin Sime sang the role from a music stand in the pit, having minutes before taken the part of Edoardo in the first scene of Act I. Despite all this the performance was a great success

As well as the jettisoning of Act III and the transposition of Edoardo’s aria from the original Act III to the new Act I, there was one other major piece of surgery. Act III has had a bad press, yet to my mind it contains one movement that is top-drawer Donizetti, the ensemble “Raddopia i baci tuoi”. The decision to insert this just before the prayer that ends Act II is a stroke of genius. It is in the same key as the prayer, and so there are no musical problems. Dramatically it adds more power to an already powerful ending and produces an experience that is almost unbearably moving. I can’t believe that Donizetti would have disapproved.

There are still performances in April and May, so if anyone who lives within reach of York, Snape, Buxton, Cheltenham, Warwick, Perth or Cambridge and sees these words before ETO arrives in your town, don’t hesitate – this production deserves to sell out.

ETO hope to follow this, the first professional production in Britain, with another first, in two years time, that of Donizetti's Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo.


The Team

Eustachio, Mayor of Calais - Eddie Wade

Aurelio, Eustachio's son - Helen Sherman

Eleonora, Aurelio's wife - Paula Sides

Edoardo III, King of England - Cozmin Sime

Pietro de Wisants, burgher - Brendan Collins

Giovanni d'Aire, burgher - Andrew Glover

Edmundo, English general - Adam Tunnicliffe

Giacomo de Wisants, burgher - Niel Joubert

Armando - Matthew Sprange

Incognito - Piotr Lempa


Conductor - Jeremy Silver

Director - James Conway

Designer - Samal Blak

Lighting Designer - Ace McCarron



© Richard Hubert Smith

Aurelio coming over the wall to steal food



© Richard Hubert Smith

The attempted capture of Aurelio



© Richard Hubert Smith

The towns people consider their fate



© Richard Hubert Smith

Aurelio and Eleonora



© Richard Hubert Smith

Eustachio and the townspeople debate how to respond to the ultimatum



© Richard Hubert Smith

The six burghers get ready to go for execution





© Donizetti Society and contributors, 2004-2013