Seductive Deception: Donizetti's 'Don Pasquale'

WOO-1252-DonPasquale-300Creative artists react in different ways to fame and fortune. Some take the riches they've earned, lie back contentedly, then disappear from the spotlight. Others keep right on plugging -- perhaps because their creative instincts are too strong to ignore, or maybe fearing their muse will soon depart and they'd better take advantage while they still can.

Consider three of history's most wildly successful opera composers: Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi. All three had so many hits, so quickly, that they might well have decided on early retirement and two of them took that option.

Faced with changing musical tastes, nearly universal admiration and a fat bank account, Verdi first slowed his pace a bit, and then took about a decade off before a brief comeback in his 70s that resulted in Otello and Falstaff, two of his greatest works. Verdi wound up with a catalog of about 28 operas, give or take a revision or two.

Rossini finished William Tell>, his 39th opera, in 1829. Then he settled into a comfortable retirement and lived nearly 40 more years without ever writing another one.

Donizetti was another story. He was also a spectacular success; there was a time during his career when one of every four operas performed in Italy was his, and his fortune was clearly made. But unlike Verdi and Rossini, Donizetti kept right on going. He composed until the bitter end, when his health finally failed him, reaching a total of more than 60 operas, ranging from stark tragedy to brilliant comedy.

By most counts, Don Pasquale was Donizetti's 64th opera. He wrote it in barely more than two weeks. It was an instant hit at its world premiere in Paris, in 1843, and within a few months the opera also had been heard in Milan, Vienna and London. By 1846 it had traveled all the way to New York City, where it was performed in English.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Don Pasquale, a true masterpiece from Donizetti's lighter side, in a production from a legendary theater in the same city that hosted the opera's world premiere, the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris.. Soprano Desirée Rancatore stars as the sly young woman Norina, with baritone Alessandro Corbelli as the opera's overbearing, yet somehow loveable title character.