Friday, October 12, 2012

Maria Padilla, a Surprise from Donizetti


In the years of furious and final creativity (between, about 1837-1843) Gaetano Donizetti would know great success and terrible tragedy. On the one hand he would experience the death of his parents; all three of his children would not survive to adulthood and his wife would fall to cholera. In parallel his fecund talent would ceaselessly enable him to work continuously, until his own final mental eclipse would overtake him in 1843. By some counts he would achieve 60-75 (I can find no agreement) operas; 16 symphonies; 19 string quartets (I’ve heard many and they are lovely) and over 190 songs. In his final years of work he would pen Don Pasquale, La Favorita, Roberto Deveraux, La Fille du Regiment and something called Maria Padilla. This latter is a true surprise and a work of rare beauty and extraordinary musical invention. It gives proof to the fact that there is just more great music, happily, than we can ever know.

Nothing in Maria Padilla happens as its outline might suggest. A prince, disguised as a commoner, falls in love with Maria. He is traveling under an assumed name (Mendez) and attempts a seduction. The usual romantic conclusion is her being forsaken or imagining she is (Lucia di Lammermoor), his marrying another noble or simply casting her aside (Rigoletto ,La Traviata) or some magical or improbable intervention (Tristan). None of these things happen in Maria Padilla, in fact all the romantic conventions are turned on their head. She does not go mad, her father (Ruiz) does. The father figure is not a baritone, true in all of the above operas, but a tenor. The royal story with its’ pageantry and court intrigue is all there but, overshadowed by the love of two sisters and their relation to their father, whose falls into derangement from shame. The seduction isn’t even a conquest, it resolves itself into mutual consent and an agreement- Maria will flee with her lover Don Pedro (Mendez true identity) if he will marry her and later crown her Queen, and he agrees! What follows are court intrigue, high politics, near betrayal and a stunning denoument . So stunning it exist in three versions! There are ensembles, arias and choruses on par with his greatest works and enough bel-canto virtuosity to make the near three hours and three acts fly by. One of the most moving a trio for two sopranos, tenor with harp and then English horn obbligato:

No… sola mi lasciate …

In tal punto solenne , che decide

No … leave me alone …

In this solemn moment which will

forever decide my fate

What follows is a royal apotheosis and debacle simultaneously, the complete “double” change of heart of the man who would be King and a completely unexpected Napoleonic gesture from a woman who rises to heroic dimensions in the causes of love and honor.

Find out how Donizetti manages all this with his unexpected opera Maria Padilla. The conventions start breaking at noon on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on KPAC and KTXI.   

by Ron Moore

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