Donizetti Opera 2023 opens with Il Diluvio Universale

I have read the writings of Sassy, of Calmet, The Loves of the Angels by Lord Byron, the tragedy ‘The Flood’, by Father Ringhini and, had I found it, would also have read the poem on the same subject by Bernardino Baldi. By stealing and knitting together ideas from these authors and a few different tragedies, I have put together a plan, which the Poet is not averse to … I have completed the first act; there will be 3 acts because there is no dancing in Lent.

Donizetti wrote these words to his father on 10th January 1830 and the Poet he refers to is Domenico Gilardoni, charged with putting to verse a libretto which, as we have seen, the composer himself drew from different, scrupulously listed sources. The opera in question, Il diluvio universale, with its religious subject matter befitting the season of Lent, was performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 6th March of that same year. It was not very well-received, apparently because of problems manipulating the stage machinery and, above all, one or two lapses by primadonna, Luigia Boccabadati. The premiere was followed by just six full and two shortened performances. Things improved when a second version of Il Diluvio was staged at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa in 1834. In my opinion, the opera deserved more, considering that, after the Italian stagings, the opera was revived just once, in Paris (in 1837), before the concert performances in Bergamo (1986) and London (2005), and a staging in San Gallen in 2010 entrusted almost entirely to singers from the 2006 rare opera CD.

In my view, today’s Diluvio project, presented with a different philological and dramaturgical awareness by the Festival, which has the honour of demonstrating the genesis of Donizetti’s operas and their relationship with other similar masterpieces of the time, will be particularly interesting in terms of musical composition. Donizetti wanted to have his say in the serious repertoire, since he had until then triumphed almost exclusively with opera buffa and farces. Il Diluvio appeared a few months before Anna Bolena, when the composer had turned his hand decisively towards the great dramatic works that were staged in that crucial year (I’m thinking, in Il Diluvio, of the parts concerning Noè’s vision, and Sela’s final scene which gave us a fully-rounded character with great tragic power and musical beauty, one of his most sublime heroines).

In our times (and, alas, at such a sad time for Italy due to the floods), our Diluvio, presented in the original Naples version, can be seen as history’s first natural disaster and this production by MASBEDO is an opportunity to reflect on the environmental crisis. The three performances on 17th, 25th November and 3rd December will show us how our current concerns can be found in a masterpiece that has basically been an enigma for almost two hundred years.