Le nozze in villa

Gaetano Donizetti
Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo

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Giorgio Misseri (Claudio) and Gaia Petrone (Sabina) Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
Fabio Capitanucci (Trifoglio) Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
Omar Montanari (Don Petronio) Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
The wedding venue Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
Gaia Petrone (Sabina) Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
Fabio Capitanucci (Trifoglio) Credit: Gianfranco Rota, Fondazione Teatro Donizetti

By a handy coincidence, this month sees the issue on DVD of the third operas of both Donizetti and Rossini, and a lesson between them in how to these Italian comedies should and should not be staged.

By playing L’equivovo stravagante as all-out farce, the Bad Wildbad theatre in Germany steamrollered any comic potential in the Rossini. Contrast such drivel to Davide Marranchelli’s brilliant realisation of the equally fanciful Le nozze in villa, which treats Donizetti with the respect he deserves. When it comes to presenting such an archaic genre as opera buffa today, this is exactly how to do it.

Sabina has fallen in love with Claudio during a trip to the city, but returning home faces being married off by her father, Don Petronio, the local magistrate, to the pompous Trifoglio. Learning that she comes without a dowry, the latter calls off his suit, leaving the way clear for her true love.

Marranchelli’s stroke of genius is to set the piece in the context of a wedding venue, with Trifoglio as its manager and Sabina the photographer, which helps explain why she is carrying around Claudio’s portrait.

Recorded at the height of COVID restrictions, the action takes place in the cleared auditorium and opens with extras playing football—as they do at wedding receptions I’ve been to. There’s a great opening scene, with two couples posing simultaneously for portraits on either side of a scenic backdrop, a posturing bridesmaid, a truculent bride, and two enormous lurv-swans made of white balloons.

It’s shallow, vulgar make-believe, but close enough to reality to be really funny, and shows up the deep, lasting affection of the true lovers. The idea is maintained throughout the opera, helping to provide background during less active episodes.

The performers are absolutely on message throughout, playing the piece with just the right touch of lightness and absurdity when required.

The mezzo Gaia Petrone handles Sabina’s opening aria Sospiri del mio sen with agility, and flourishes in the defiant Non mostrami in tale istante—the first flash of the confident Donizetti heroines to come.

Giorgio Misseri as Claudio has that lingering passion in his voice of a good Italian tenor, which comes through well in his Dai suoi bei lumi il core aria and cavatina. The bass Fabio Capitanucci nails his role as Trifoglio, as does Omar Montanari as Don Petronio, both petty officials at whom we can laugh because we recognise them.

Inevitably, the music does not bear the greatness of Donizetti’s later masterpieces, but there are many fine moments, particularly in the ensembles, such as the first act trio that anticipates that of L’elisir d’amore.

Only an incomplete score exists, which lacks the act 2 quintet, specially composed for this production. This new piece includes a good pastiche aria for Trifoglio, but the rest of it, with low tesitura, modern harmonies and more extensive use of brass and woodwind, sounds quite different from the rest of the opera.

Despite the praise heaped on it by director Marranchelli and conductor Stefano Montanari in the programme, it’s the weak point of the show. Comparing it with the light fluency of the second act trio that precedes it, or the duet that follows, makes one appreciate the masterful economy of Donizetti.

Montanari conducts the period instruments of the Orchestra Gli Originali at the Bergamo festival from the stage, and contributes witty continuo passages on the fortepiano that match the action.

After the somewhat cursory happy ending to the piece, the entire production team gather in the auditorium to applaud. As this was one of many productions that have been bravely mounted to empty houses by Italian companies during the COVID lockdown, the gesture seemed entirely appropriate.

Reviewer: Colin Davison