Hiding in Plain Sight: Donizetti's 'Gianni di Parigi'

Hiding in Plain Sight: Donizetti's 'Gianni di Parigi'

When it comes to a list of history's great opera composers, it might seem easy to take the names and divide them into two columns. In the first would go those composers who specialized in opera almost to the exclusion of any other music -- Verdi, Rossini, Bellini and Wagner come to mind. And in the second column, we'd place those who also wrote a wide variety of other music -- composers such as Mozart, Handel and Richard Strauss.

But where would we put Gaetano Donizetti? At first, you might think his name would automatically go into column number one. After all, it's easy to name some of his many great operas -- works that include Don Pasquale, Lucia di Lammermoor and The Elixir of Love -- and not so easy to think of anything he composed that's not an opera.

Still, a complete list of Donizetti's works might just surprise you. He wrote 18 string quartets, close to 100 art songs, dozens of solo piano pieces and scores of cantatas and other choral works, including three full scale requiem masses.

So, why don't we know more of that music? The obvious answer would be that his many great operas have overshadowed the rest of his considerable output. But the real answer might be that Donizetti was so amazingly prolific that much of his music, no matter what the genre, has simply gotten lost in the shuffle.

In fact, Donizetti's operas may be the best example of that. He wrote more than 60 operas altogether, and the best of them have become so popular that many of the others -- dozens of fine scores -- too often go overlooked.

One of those neglected operas is his slender yet graceful comedy Gianni di Parigi. Donizetti may have written a draft of the work as early as 1828, when he was barely 30 and had already composed about 15 operas. It may have been intended for a premiere in Naples that never took place. A bit later, hoping to establish his reputation in France, Donizetti gave the score to a famous tenor who was heading for Paris, but that didn't work out either. After that, the composer seems to have lost track of the opera. It was finally premiered in 1839, at Milan's La Scala, in a production that didn't even credit Donizetti as the composer -- an oversight he quickly set out to correct.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Gianni di Parigi from a venue for which the score seems perfectly suited -- the Wexford Festival in Ireland, a destination becoming widely known as a place to find innovative presentations of neglected operas. The international cast includes Czech soprano Zuzana Markova as the Princess of Navarre, and Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha in the title role, in a production led by conductor Giacomo Sagripanti.