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Thu, Jun 27


Church of the Heavenly Rest

Donizetti: Symphony and Rossini: Stabat Mater

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Donizetti: Symphony and Rossini: Stabat Mater
Donizetti: Symphony and Rossini: Stabat Mater

Time & Location

Jun 27, 2019, 8:00 PM

Church of the Heavenly Rest, 1085 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128, USA

About the event


Gaetano Donizetti reached the height of his ambition when he was appointed Kapellmeister to the imperial court of Vienna in 1842. He was ready to meet the German-speaking world on its own terms: his only teacher was a Bavarian (Johann Simon Mayr, whose Medea in Corinto was revived last year by Teatro Nuovo), and he had been composing string quartets all his life. He picked the last of these to expand into a full-scale Romantic symphony for the Viennese public.

If he had finished, it would be the only example of such a thing by a leading Italian composer - but fate intervened. Linda di Chamounix needed an overture in a hurry, so Donizetti borrowed the symphony’s first movement, and though he had already orchestrated the second and third, he never returned to complete the finale before his fatal illness struck just a few years later.

For Teatro Nuovo, Gabriele Dotto (editorial director for the Complete Works of Puccini and co-director of the corresponding Donizetti series) is preparing a critical edition of the first three movements, while Crutchfield is orchestrating the final movement of the original Quartet. Dotto will be on hand June 27 to introduce the program in a pre-concert talk.


Earlier in 1842, immediately before traveling to Vienna with the projected symphony in his portfolio, Donizetti went to Bologna to do a favor for his most revered senior colleague: he conducted the Italian premiere of Rossini’s Stabat Mater. The work was not entirely new, and might never have come into public view if Rossini had not needed to escape an embarrassment.

After his withdrawal from the theater following Guillaume Tell (1829), Rossini never composed another opera, and for quite a while he composed almost nothing. His creativity resumed at full force after he settled in Paris in 1855, but in the intervening quarter-century he wrote only in halting fits and starts. Exhaustion? Depression? Disagreement with music’s new trends? The mystery has fascinated historians for nearly two centuries.

But he did accept at least one commission. In 1831 the Spanish prelate and state councilor Manuel Fernández Varela, who was a friend of a friend of the composer, begged him for a setting of the venerable Latin poem about Mary’s reflections at the Crucifixion. There was no official contract, but Rossini is understood to have received a substantial gift in return for agreeing. Meanwhile the “retired” and reluctant composer stipulated an agreement that the Stabat Mater would never be published, and could be performed only in Madrid. Probably this is why he thought he could get away with composing only half of it and hiring his colleague Giovanni Tadolini (husband of the soprano who would later be Donizetti’s original Linda di Chamounix) to do the rest, which was handed over to Varela with no mention of dual authorship.

The hybrid was performed once for Varela at the royal chapel in Madrid in 1833. But four years later the prelate died, his heirs sold the manuscript, Rossini lost his suit to block its performance, and to save face the composer had to write his own music for the sections he had farmed out. The all-Rossini score was first performed in January 1842 in Paris, with four star soloists (Giulia Grisi, Emma Albertazzi, Giovanni Mario, Antonio Tamburini). Donizetti had two more in Bologna (Clara Novello and Nicola Ivanoff) plus two noble amateurs (Clementina degli Antoni and Prince Pompeo Belgioioso).

Both performances were clamorous successes. Donizetti wrote to a friend that “the enthusiasm was indescribable” and that even after the dress rehearsal Rossini had been followed home by 500 cheering spectators; Rossini for his part said that Donizetti was “the only maestro in Italy capable of conducting my Stabat as I would wish.” The compact work, lasting just about an hour, became immensely popular; for just one example, it was performed almost forty times on Sunday concerts in the early years of the Metropolitan Opera.


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