Donizetti in Paris
The series about historical places of opera art & culture. Get to know exciting excursion and travel ideas for opera lovers. This time: Donizetti in Paris
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Donizetti in Paris
In 1835, Donizetti had visited the city for the first time at Rossini’s invitation, and his works enjoyed growing popularity. His first major highlight in the French capital was his triumph with the French version of “Lucia de Lammermoor” in 1837, after which Donizetti took the city by storm. If he began his Paris career at the Théâtre des Italiens, after 1837 he expanded his activities to the Grand Opéra and the Théâtre de la Renaissance.
With the “Fille du régiment” he took the fourth and last bastion of the Paris opera scene, the Opéra Comique. This led to Donizetti being able to realize opera projects in all four of the city’s opera houses in 1840/1841! Hector Berlioz wrote jealously in a newspaper: “Mr. Donizetti seems to want to treat us like a conquered country, it is a real war of invasion. We will no longer be able to speak of the lyric theaters of Paris, but of Donizetti’s theaters!” Donizetti was capable of writing simultaneously in four different styles for each theater, a true musical chameleon! He was at the peak of his creative powers and the greatest active opera composer in the world.
Donizetti wrote several operas for Paris, including “Don Pasquale” or “Dom Sébastien”, but his most lasting success was his “Fille du régiment”. The effect that opera, with its patriotic pieces, had on the French for decades is astonishing. It was on the schedule of French opera houses for many decades on the Quatorze Juillet and, like the Marseillaise and fireworks, was part of the national holiday. The “Salut à la France” was for a long time the unofficial national anthem of the French (see also the comments and the link to the “Salut à la France” below).
Saddening was the end of Donizetti. His advanced syphilis affected his health more and more, so that he had to be locked up in a sonatorium near Paris for 18 months. He was then taken to Bergamo where he later died mentally deranged.
Destination Palais Garnier
Unfortunately, there are hardly any historical sites dedicated to Donizetti in Paris, but at least the Palais Garnier, built in 1875, commemorates the Italian composer with a bust on its north façade.
Donizetti’s bust at the Palais Garnier:
Musical Background: the patriotic «Salut à la France» from «La fille du régiment »
At this point, the name of Lily Pons should not be missing. She was one of the great MET divas of the 40s and 50s. French by birth and naturalized American, she became involved with concerts on the front lines during World War II. Her performance at the New York Met on December 29, 1940, after the occupation of Paris, became famous. With Roosevelt’s permission, she waved a flag of the French tricolor and sang the Marseillaise in a performance of “Fille du Régiment” . The audience stood up and enthusiastically saluted this patriotic act.