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Gaetano Donizetti: Don Gregorio
09 Jul 2009

DONIZETTI: Don Gregorio

Like a baseball player with a low batting average but a propensity for home runs, Gaetano Donizetti composed dozens of operas, among which only a very few get frequent performances today.

Gaetano Donizetti: Don Gregorio

Giorgio Valerio; Giorgio Trucco; Elizaveta Martirosyan; Livio Scarpellini; Paolo Bordogna; Alessandra Fratelli; Luca Ludovici, Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti. Stefano Montanari, conductor. Roberto Recchia, director. Recorded live: Bergamo, Italy, November 2nd-4th, 2007.

Dynamic 33579 [DVD]

$33.00  Click to buy

After Lucia di Lammermoor, in fact, it is mostly his comic operas that retain their appeal — L’elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, and La Fille du Regiment. But this does not mean that the lesser known operas consist of foul balls and strike outs. The Dynamic label is one company that has revived many a worthy rare opera, and this DVD of a 2007 performance of the little-known Don Gregorio at the Teatro Donizetti (appropriately enough) in Bergamo may not be a home run, but it’s a solid hit.

Conductor Stefano Montanari dances his way through the overture, a Rossini-inspired affair that even includes a mini-crescendo section, possibly in homage to Donizetti’s great predecessor. A relatively early work (Stefano Olcese in the cogent booklet essay gives the year of the premiere as 1824), Don Gregorio never quite leaves the shadow of Rossini. Absent a classic Donizetti outpouring of memorable melody, such as ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ in L’elisir, this opera will probably never become a repertory item. Nonetheless, the music entertainingly supports an amusing turn on familiar comic themes of the time. The Marchese Antiquati wants the tutor of his two young sons to help the boys keep their “innocence.” However, both young men are much more knowledgeable about the appeal of the opposite sex than they are about any of the subjects Don Gregorio, the tutor, struggles to teach them. One son, in fact, has not only fallen in love, but married and produced a child, all in secret. Of course Don Gregorio tries to help the son keep this a secret, but in the end the Marchese learns the truth and reluctantly gives his blessing.

In a staging from the Wexford Festival, with sets and costumes by Ferdia Murphy, a twist is added — Don Gregorio is a cross-dresser in private, with more than usual affection for his charges. It’s a harmless enough ploy to keep the action fresh, and director Roberto Recchia manages that very well. None of the singers overacts obnoxiously, and Paolo Bordogna in the title role makes Don Gregorio an interesting twist on Rossini’s Figaro — a man of lower circumstance but with more wit and brains than his so-called superiors. Giorgio Trucco is Enrico, the married son, and Livio Scarpellini the more comically adolescent one, with a crush on his rather mature housemaid, Leonarda, amusingly performed by Alessandra Fratelli. Luca Ludovici, as Enrico’s secret wife, presents a strong, secure young woman, rather than a weepy ingenue. Giorgio Valerio rounds out the cast well as the doting father oddly concerned with the chastity of his sons.

The staging is modest, the singers more charming than impressive, at least as vocalists, and the opera really just an extended piffle — and yet, it’s harmless fun. And in the opera world today, fans should take their fun where it can be found. On that basis, this Don Gregorio earns a recommendation.

Chris Mullins

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