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Donizetti L'Assedio di Calais

David Angus
Alessandro Talevi director
Madeleine Boyd designer
Matthew Haskins lighting designer
Victoria Newlyn movement

Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London
5 - 11 November 2009

A strange historical opera which languished unheard since 1840 until interest was revived by an Opera Rara CD in the late 1980s; "one of the best crafted and most forward-looking works Donizetti had written at the time (it premiered in 1836), yet in others it is a throwback to earlier opera serias of the 1820s" - - "Donizetti's 49th opera and an important bridge from his former Italian works to those intended for Paris - - a mature work of a master of melody and master of the dramatic stage".[ Donizetti-Lassedio-Plessis-Philharmonia-Orchestra]

Set late on during England's 1347 Siege of Calais, it has the French starving and in a bad way; eventually Edward III grants a truce, on condition that 6 noble-born Frenchmen be executed as an example... The volunteer hostages are reprieved at the last moment by the intervention of the Queen of England, leading to "a happy ending whipped up, and all rejoice in a jubilant chorus"; that last Act dissatisfied Donizetti and was omitted at the opera's revivals in late 1837 and 1840.*

Guildhall School gave its British premiere in 1993 (including the 3rd Act ballet)** but I guess it was nothing like this production, which has a good student cast; soloists particularly notable in the première evening (some parts are doubled in alternate performances) were Maire Flavin (deputising on 5 November), Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon, Matthew Sprange and Alexander Robin Baker as Eduardo III.

But this was a night for the production team, and for the chorus and orchestra under David Angus, assisted by the supportive acoustics of the GSMD Theatre, with its deep and capacious orchestra pit (a special mention down there for clarinettist Morton Jensen's daunting obliggato). Admittedly the reception was boosted by friends in the audience, but this show would be welcomed anywhere. The limitations of a small stage were turned to advantage, and the costuming and lighting played significant parts in creating a credible semblance of the siege situation, inside and outside the walls of Calais. There was no problem with that last Act; it whizzed through with brio and the King of England later joined by his Queen (photo below) gave the whole a lift in Alessandro Talevi's ironic treatment.

Although it may be against college policy, a fully professional filming of this production with several cameras could create a notable DVD...

Peter Grahame Woolf

*The Times reviewer would have preferred the hostages to have been hanged one by one, c.f. the guillotining of Poulenc's nuns: " - - the opera would be much finer, dramatically and musically, if it ended with the six French martyrs marching proudly to their deaths - - "



Photos: Nobby Clark













Reviews of the Opera Rara recording: [Ediitor]

- - This recording shows us that a brief stage life does not a bad opera make. - - We have come to expect that the booklets provided with opera rara sets will be informative, and this one is no exception - - an immensely enjoyable recording, and one that can be heartily recommended.

L'Assedio di Calais is Gaetano Donizetti's 49th opera and an important bridge from his former Italian works to those intended for Paris - - This is a very rewarding recording and a must for the Donizetti enthusiast; it will be played repeatedly.
One can hope a staged production and DVD will follow.

**An interesting review of the 1993 performance, also at Guildhall School from the Donizetti Society's Newsletter, has been kindly supplied by its author Alexander Weatherspoon
(Chairman of the Donizetti Society and Editor of its Newsletter).
He kindly adds "
Your activities are a great boon to belcantists. Donizetti is doing well and may well be, just at the moment, edging a little in front of Verdi in actual performance statistics ..."