Gaetano Donizetti & his Linda

Whenever I set out to describe a work presented by Opera Circle, I feel somewhat anxious. I doubt if I will be able to accomplish the task, whether I will sufficiently represent the composer and his work, whether I will grant enough credit to the tremendous dedication of the Sobieski family in such an endeavor…

My preference would be to share a brief commentary along with a colorful DVD, since it is truly impossible to express in words the entire artistic aura created by the sets, the costumes, the soloists, the choir, and, of course, the music as performed by the orchestra.

Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix is not a frequently staged opera. It was seen at the Metropolitan but in 1934 & 1935, while Elixir of Love, Lucia di Lamermoor, and Daughter of the Regiment enjoy far wider popularity, the latter two in the current season at the Met.

It’s a good thing we had the opportunity to meet, perhaps the one and only time, Linda in all of her drama and joy, as well as many others from her world: her beloved Carlo, her parents, the peasant minstrel – her faithful friend, the priest Prefetto, and the landowner Marquis. This opera was not intended for a prima donna. The role of Carlo, for instance, is just as significant, if not more. However, the work does demand an exceptional cast of strong and beautiful voices among the numerous soloists. The dramatic plots interweave with moments of humor, and the very ending is ultimately a happy one; the story, therefore, is neither a tragedy nor a comedy but a typical semiseria.

The type of music is the Italian bel-canto, characteristic of the early 19th century. Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) composed over seventy operas, many of which are today completely forgotten. The ones that do get staged absolutely prove his mastery of the bel-canto style. He created works full of fine feel for scenic effect, with deep expression and wonderful melodic ideas. The years of his great creative triumph fall between 1830 and 1843, a period during which he composed several operas a year. His output also contains chamber and symphonic works as well as church music. He was famous and enjoyed the respect of his peers. He chose to set librettos with a staple romantic theme, dominated by a love so passionate that if the couple could not be joined in marriage, they would die of suicide or fall into insanity, as happened with Linda.

Alongside this great love we discover in the opera yet another theme, one always contemporary, nearly universal: the phenomenon of a people moving on in search of a better life. The youth of the village in the Alps goes off to Paris, accompanied by the sung addio, or farewell: a premonition of the separation and concern for the immediate future.

As I mentioned earlier, Linda di Chamounix demands exceptional voices. Opera Circle chose soloists not only technically suited to the challenge but also reflecting their roles in terms of personality. As Linda, Dorota Sobieska enchanted the audience with her lyric coloratura voice and charm of a young girl. The role of the infatuated Carlo was portrayed by Marc Schapman, an expressive tenor. I cannot remark upon him nor his friend Cody Medina, a bass-baritone from Indiana University, without a certain personal engagement. These two fine and intelligent artists cordially spent time, after rehearsals and performances, on watching and listening to Stanislaw Moniuszko’s Halka as recorded by the National Theater of Warsaw as well as Verbum nobile, presented by Opera Circle.

Mezzo-sopranos Laura Avdey, Linda’s mother, and Amy Scheetz, Pierotto, likewise displayed great ability. The ballads sung by Amy were movingly beautiful. Ray Liddle, as in many a previous opera, was the baritone father of Dorota, grounds enough for him to adopt her. The most amusing character was bass-baritone Peter Bush in the role of the Marchese, an elderly gentleman with his sights set on young Linda, yielding a plethora of comic attempts.

The remaining cast was that of six supporting roles, also appointed with great care. The soloists were accompanied by a chorus of thirty and full orchestra of forty musicians. Preparations for the production took place in various locations. The cast and chorus did not have many rehearsals with the orchestra, yet it was possible to join all this into miraculous and harmonious whole.

The performance was often interrupted by cheers and applause from the delighted audience, who expressed in this way their appreciation of the performance.

The opera was performed three times: at Kent State University Stark Campus and twice at the Alliance of Poles Auditorium in Cleveland.

Dr. Elżbieta Ulanowska
Translated by Wanda Sobieska

Forum, 4/2007