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“Così finirà l’opera: o bene o male”: Thus will the opera end: either well or badly”. This is what Donizetti wrote in his own hand on the last page of the manuscript of Chiara e Serafina. Unfortunately, when he debuted this work at Teatro alla Scala it did not go at all well, and after just twelve performances the opera fell into complete oblivion for two whole centuries. Today, thanks to Donizetti Opera, the festival wholly devoted to Bergamo’s composer, we have the honour and the duty of redeeming it. It is true that the weak story-line derived from La Citerne (a French melodrama from 1806), the libretto put together hurriedly and, in places, inconsistently by Felice Romani, and the fact that Donizetti was forced to compose the opera in just twelve days, all contributed to the difficulties of bringing Chiara e Serafina to life, despite the interesting sections in the score and the many characteristics that are noteworthy from a musicological point of view. I would go so far as to describe Chiara e Serafina as one of Donizetti’s early “workshop operas" that were to become the reservoir into which he would dip frequently for the creation of his later masterpieces.

Careful analysis reveals, as if by magic, many passages which have been partially or completely used again. An example of this is the finale of the first act, which provides the musical base for the stretto in the quintet during the first act of Anna Bolena or the cabaletta in Chiara’s cavatina, which many years later was to be transformed into the duet between Malatesta and Norina in Don Pasquale. Similarly, the Fishermen’s Chorus in the Introduction, with its rhythm, harmonic linking and its country flavour reminds us of the introductory chorus to L'elisir d'amore. It also has a great deal in common with Il Furioso all'isola di Santo Domingo: the “island” setting, both works belonging to the semi-serious genre with sudden changes from comedy to pathos, the close musical and dramaturgical resemblance between the two buffi in the two operas, Don Maschino and Kaidamà, and finally the presence of a storm scene (in this case, not greatly developed) are all features that lead us to see Chiara e Serafina as the “elder sister” of Il Furioso.

There are several particularly beautiful pieces which stand out from the others for their mastery and inspiration: above all Chiara’s cavatina with the unusual cor anglais concertante throughout, the extremely poetic duet between Serafina and Don Ramiro, in which Donizetti moves beyond a certain link with Rossini which permeates much of the opera, the long finale in the first act which opens with a semi-modal, archaic sounding arioso from Lisetta with solo harp. In the second act, on the other hand, the recitative and Serafina’s aria with solo violin concertante (no less than four pieces in the opera call for the contribution of solo orchestral instruments!) and the complex sextet in which Mayr’s and Padre Mattei’s masterly lessons on composition and counterpoint are in evidence. It is an opera that deserves to be revived and listened to with care, with one’s ear ready to capture, here and there, the seeds and distinctive features of the Donizetti who was soon to be anointed the Genius that we all know.


Cover photo © Gianfranco Rota


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