11 Dec 2005
DONIZETTI: Il Diluvio Universale
Originally issued in LP by Voce (100), this unfairly neglected work by Gaetano Donizetti is now available on the Bongiovanni (GB2386/87-2) label.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
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Originally issued in LP by Voce (100), this unfairly neglected work by Gaetano Donizetti is now available on the Bongiovanni (GB2386/87-2) label.
Shortly after the première of Olivo e Pascuale in Rome, on January 7, 1827, Donizetti returned to Naples to negotiate a contract with Domenico Barbaja, manager of the three most prestigious theaters in that city. The terms of the contract called for Donizetti to compose twelve operas over the next two years. Two of these operas, L’Esule di Roma (January 1, 1828), and Gianni di Calais (August 2, 1828) so impressed Barbaja that he extended Donizetti’s contract to include the composition of two more operas, and he offered the composer the position of Director of Music of the Royal Theaters of Naples—a position Donizetti did not want, but nonetheless accepted.
One of the new operas called for under the terms of the extended contract was to be staged during the Lent season in 1830. After much research and, perhaps, as a catharsis for the premature loss of his infant child, and his wife’s subsequent illness, the composer set his aims on the Biblical passage of Noah and the flood. Donizetti asked Domenico Gilardoni to write a libretto based on the volumes of notes and information the composer had gathered for his new work, the oratorio, Il diluvio universale.
Because of the feast’s religious overtones there was to be no dance music or ballet presented on stage. In a letter to his father, Donizetti tells of composing an opera “in a completely new style,” and to this effect the composer eliminated the cabaletta, and adhered to a more precise dramatic structure.
There is little information on the original production other than some notations by the composer to indicate “scene changes,” but what these scenes were, or costumes, is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear, though; by the time the “oratorio” was presented in Genoa (1834), and Paris (1837) the work had become an “azione tragica-sacra.” Like Rossini, with Mosé (1818) and its Paris version, Moïse et Pharaon, Donizetti had used a Biblical character to suit his operatic needs by adding a love triangle, the sacrifice of one of the main characters, and both operas end with God’s wrath on sinners and their eventual salvation as interpreted by the orchestra.
Noé and his family kneel in prayer before the Ark. Sela, wife of Cadmo, the Chief Satrap, has incurred her husband’s wrath for her faith, and for protecting Noé. Artoo and the Satraps come to burn the Ark, but Noé and Sela stop them. Artoo warns Sela that Cadmo will not forgive her for interfering with his orders.
In Cadmo’s house, Sela’s handmaiden and supposed friend, Ada muses on her passion for Cadmo, and learning of Sela’s intervention against Artoo, she seizes the opportunity to advance her plans. Ada tells Cadmo of Sela’s aid to Noé. To further her cause, she lies, telling him that Sela is in love with Noé’s son, Jafet (Ah perfida!...a me spergiura). Cadmo is torn between his love for Sela and his hatred for the Israelites.
In Noé’s camp, the Satraps secretly await Cadmo. Sela, fearful of being discovered by her husband, comes to warn Noé of Cadmo’s intentions to destroy him, his family, his religion and the Ark. Noé is firm in his convictions and offers Sela and her son salvation from Jehova’s wrath, but she hesitates. Jafet comes with news of Cadmo’s approach. Ada is with him. In the ensuing ensemble the four main characters confront each other. Having captured Noé’s family, Artoo and the Satraps reveal themselves. Sela implores Cadmo’s mercy, while Noé sings of impending doom (Volgi quel pianto al Cielo).
Ada expresses her wishes to replace Sela in Cadmo’s heart and throne (Ah, non tacermi in core). Cadmo enters and announces that Ada will become his wife as soon as Sela is executed for what he believes to be her treachery. Sela is brought in and Cadmo reproaches her (Eri primiera e sola). Guiltless of Cadmo’s accusations Sela does not ask for pardon, but requests to see their son, which Cadmo refuses. He tells Sela that after her execution he will marry Ada, and threatens to tell their son of Sela’s supposed sins. At the thought of having lost all, Sela begs God for mercy (Tradita dall’amica), while her husband mocks her God.
Noé meditates (Gli empii’l circondano) while his family prays. Escorted by guards, Sela tells Noé that Cadmo has sentenced him to death. Noé prays (Dio tremendo, onnipossente) and reveals that the sky will grow dark, the sun will hide, the oceans will rise and all will be destroyed. Noé leads his family to the Ark.
At the court of Senààr all celebrate the upcoming wedding between Ada and Cadmo, and his triumph over Noé and his God (Stirpe angelica, ti bea). Sela breaks in imploring Cadmo to permit her once again to see their son. The God of Noé has failed her and she will now gladly go to her death (Senza colpi mi scacciasti). Cadmo promises to take her back if she would publicly curse her God. She hesitates and at the moment when she pronounces the words, “Sia maledetto,” she falls dead. A storm breaks out, and as the confused people rush about in search of a way out, all are drowned by the rising waters. The dark clouds part to reveal the Ark as it floats to safety.
Very much like its predecessor, Rossini’s Mosé, the plot for Donizetti’s Il diluvio universale is a conventional operatic story, and the libretto. does not provide complex situations. What it does provide is the opportunity for ensembles, and arias best suited to the composer’s style, and Donizetti, aware of his reputation for “tossing off pleasing melodies,” welcomed the dramatic opportunity provided by the religious theme to improve his image as a composer. Rehearsals for the oratorio started in mid February, and the premiere took place at the Teatro San Carlo a few days later on February 28, 1830.
Donizetti remained attached to Diluvio universale, even after the success of Anna Bolena made him internationally famous. In 1833 the composer revised the oratorio for performance in Genoa the following year. To minimize the “religious” aspect of the score Donizetti took music from his failed 1828 Il Paria, for new choral and orchestral passages, and added arias and cabalettas, turning the piece into an “azione tragica-sacra.” The composer gave Noé and his followers solem, elegant music mostly in the form of ensembles, with Noé singing few solos. In contrast, the pagans/Satraps sing the more florid passages; Sela, the only one in the story to “belong” to both camps, sings in both styles. The story centers around a love triangle and its consequences rather than on Noé’s Biblical importance and, as in Samson et Dalila, and Mosé, there is no indication of the pending doom until the last notes in the final scene, when Sela denies the God of Abraham. Unlike the sublime ending of the more famous Mosé, Donizetti’s music is impressionistic in its portrayal of God’s wrath and the flood He unleashes to wipe out the pagan sinners. After the 1834 run in Genoa, the opera played in Paris in 1837, never to be staged again for one hundred and forty-seven years.
With the added benefit of hindsight it is difficult to understand why Diluvio universale was left in obscurity for so long. Starting with the overture, the listener is always aware of the composer’s genius, detecting passages which will, in later operas, flourish into more famous musical moments. The most obvious examples are Noé’s “Sì, quell’arca” and the Act II introduction to the chorus “Stirpe angelica, ti bea.” The former re-appears in La fille du régiment as Marie’s march, “Chacun le sait, chacun le dit;” the latter becomes Orsini’s drinking song in Lucrezia Borgia. Anna Bolena, Favorite, Poliuto, Roberto Devereux and others also bear indirect traces of Diluvio.
Conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni introduced the idea of reviving the opera to musicologist Rubino Profeta. At first, there was no way to reconsile the different available versions of the opera to the composer’s wishes, until Giuseppe Patane found a “partitura” in Paris. Profeta set to work on the project which resulted in the performances which took place in Genoa in January, 1985. This recording reflects the performance of January 22, 1985.
Italian bass Bonaldo Giaotti, as Noé, leads the cast in this revival. The opening ensemble, “Oh, Dio di pietà,” sets the tone of Giaotti’s character: noble, determined, and compassionate. Giaotti is ideally suited to this role, never menacing, but singing with the authority expected from the Biblical character. At the time of this performance, and twenty-eight years after making his professional debut at the Teatro Nuovo, in Milan, Giaotti is, still, in complete control of his instrument. His clear, warm voice is easily heard over the rest of the cast in the many ensembles, and duets. In the more personal, solo numbers, Giaotti imbues his singing with the necessary pathos and authority to make the character of Noé more dimensional and believable. Though the bass does not have the darkest instrument in his category, Giaotti’s lower range is very impressive. He is specially effective in the fatherly duet with Sela “Quel che del ciel...,” and in the prayer “Dio tremendo, onnipossente.”
Sela is sung by Japanese soprano Yasuko Hayashi. Little known in this country, but for a couple of pirated recordings, and a DVD/VHS of Madama Butterfly, Hayashi had a very successful career in Europe, and now teaches in Tokyo, where she also judges for several singing competitions. Born on July 19, 1943, Hayshi made her La Scala debut in 1971, and was still performing as late as 2003. Her extraordinary voice is as comfortable in the lyric repertoire as in any other. As displayed in this recording, Hayashi’s breath control is superb, as are her brilliant high notes, delicate pianissimi, and more importantly, her dramatic interpretation. More than just a beautiful voice, Hayashi is a consummate actress, and perfectly cast in the role of Sela, whose music ranges from lyrical passages to more intense dramatic moments, to coloratura.
In the cavatina “Mentre il core abbandonava” and the show stopping cabaletta “Perché nell’alma,” Hayashi is impressive in the use of messa di voce, as well as managing the fioritura and dramatic undertones in the music. Hayashi holds her own in the duet with Noé, “Ed io potrei mai vivere.” The scene with Cadmo, “Non profferir parola,” and the duet, “Non vengo al tuo cospetto,” that follows is intensely dramatic and peppered with runs and high notes, which both singers excel in their delivery. Hayashi in particular soars easily and endlessly over the orchestra.
Few tenors can compare to the scope and breath of Ottavio Garaventa’s career. Since his debut in 1955, the tenor has sung over one hundred different roles in operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Boito, Ponchielli, Catalani, Bellini, Verdi, Puccini, etc, and spanning the Baroque to Verismo. Garaventa possesses a naturally pleasant, if not beautiful voice; he is blessed with endless ease of singing, natural projection, and with a definite, almost heroic, ring.
Garaventa sings a valiant duet with Ada “...e i numi, e la natura...” followed by “Con mio dolor rammento.” The latter has high tessitura, and is well sung by both singers. Musical phrases from this duet will later appear as music for Pollione in Bellini’s Norma (1831), and in Donizetti’s own, Imelda de Lambertazzi (1830).
Well known for her interpretations in a variety of bel canto operas, French mezzo Martine Dupuy adds the right amount of bravura to the role of Ada. Born in Marseilles on December 10, 1952, Dupuy made her operatic debut in 1975, and is the winner of several singing competitions. Characteristically of Dupuy, her singing is never forced; instead it is always well placed and evenly expressive. Her coloratura, though not excessively florid, is without aspirates and her secure technique has enabled her to sing roles as varied as Sesto, Eboli, Arsace, Charlotte and Romeo, among others.
The solemn chords which serve to open Act II set the tone for Ada’s recitative “Non mi tradir, speranza,” and aria “A non tacermi in core,” in which she recalls her love for Cadmo, and the joy Sela’s death will bring her. Donizetti loaded this aria with embellishments which Dupuy valiantly executes.
The chorus, well served by the members of the Coro del Teatro Cumunale, is an important member of the cast, and it is in almost every scene of the opera. Some of the most memorable moments are “Il tuo sposo, il nostro re,” “Ebro di stolto ardir,” “Sela! Ah tu non la vedesti,” and “Franco inoltatri il piè.”
There are many ensembles, too. Noé’s family sings a melancholy prayer in the opening scene of the opera, the aforementioned “Oh Dio di pietà,” and “Gli empi’l circondano” in Act II. The final ensemble in act one is a long melody, which builds upon itself in typical Donizetti fashion till all the main characters have expressed their feelings. Dramatically, this quintet is a worthy precursor to the more famous and finely tuned sextet in Lucia.
All the secondary roles are well sung, and Jan Latham Kenig leads the finely tuned orchestra.
This live recording was probably never intended for commercial release. The microphones are somewhat close to the orchestra, and at times this interferes with the overall effect, the few times when the singers are not stage front—all in all, not enough reason to not get this gem.
Daniel Pardo 2005
Liner Notes Diluvio Universale
© 2005 Bongiovanni
Liner Notes Diluvio Universale
© 1985 Voce
The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia
Edited by David Hamilton
© 1987 Metropolitan Opera Guild
Simon and Shuster, New York
© 1963 Herbert Weinstock
Pantheon Books (Random House)