CLASSICAL & OPERA: The forgotten maestro gets a hearing

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Gaetano Donizetti has lost out in the plethora of musical anniversaries this year. But now Mark Elder redresses the balance as he conducts Linda da Chamounix

Schubert was born 200 years ago this year, and Brahms died a century ago; Mendelssohn died in 1847. With three such musical anniversaries already to the fore, more than a few other figures have largely fallen by the wayside. For example, it's 500 years since the death of the Flemish master of polyphony Johannes Ockeghem, while this year also marks the centenary of the birth of American maverick Henry Cowell. Yet, surely, one vital anniversary that has been considerably overlooked, at least until now, is that of Schubert's exact contemporary, the prolific Gaetano Donizetti, born in Bergamo, Italy in 1797.

Perhaps part of Donizetti's problem has always been his vast output of no fewer than 65 operas, of which only a handful still maintain a vital place in the international repertoire. At the time of his death, one in every four operas performed in Italy were by him; and, even today, he can still yield a genuine masterwork, of which there are perhaps around 12, from his output. At the peak of his production rate, Donizetti was churning out four or five operas a year. Many of them perished critically as soon as they saw the light of day, but Donizetti did make some intriguing steps forward, which makes him such a pivotal figure in the history of Italian opera in general.

He was certainly on form in his 44th opera, Linda da Chamounix, perhaps his finest achievemment in the problematic semi-seria vein, which shows all the refinement and melancholy of the mature composer, despite a ludicrous libretto. Linda, a humble farmer's daughter, has fallen in love with Carlo, unaware that he is a viscount. Sent to Paris by her father, and secretly maintained there in luxury by Carlo, Linda then learns that her amour is to wed another and promptly loses her reason - the classic Donizetti mad scene. Returning to Chamounix to recuperate, the "other woman" story is revealed as a ruse. Carlo restores Linda's sanity by simply singing his love theme to her and all ends happily.

Brilliantly scored, and with a number of glittering solo arias, duets and choruses, Donizetti's setting is acute and this period-instrument performance from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under the experienced baton of Mark Elder (above), looks set to do the piece full justice. It also boasts an impressive cast, which includes the young Italian tenor Marcelo Alvarez as Carlo, making his UK debut, and Mariella Devia in the title role, considered by many to be the world's leading Donizetti soprano. And as far as anniversaries go, Donizetti gets two bites of the cherry in quick succession - he died at the age of 51 in 1848. So, to mark that occasion, OAE sources tell me they may well repeat Linda next year!

Donizetti's `Linda da Chamounix' Royal Festival Hall, South Bank (0171- 960 4242) 21 Nov 7pm

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