This concert performance is of interest because it represents the belated world premiere of a mature score by a major opera composer.
In 1839 Donizetti was based in Paris, where he was commissioned to write The Angel of Nisida for the Theatre de la Renaissance. He had nearly finished the job when the theatre went bankrupt and thus his score was no longer required.
Practical as ever, Donizetti recycled parts of it in his next piece for the Paris Opera – La Favorite. Though the plot retained the same broad outline, there were crucial changes, including turning the originally soprano role of the king’s mistress Sylvia into the mezzo role of Leonor, and dropping the part of the comic chamberlain Don Gaspar altogether.
In this revised form the work was a major success, its unperformed predecessor forgotten. The surviving material ended up in fragments in various Parisian archives, to be eventually pieced together by musicologist Candida Mantica for this first performance 180 years later.
La Favorite may be the better opera, but there’s enough in L’Ange de Nisida to make its rediscovery worthwhile.
A long-term champion of Donizetti’s music, conductor Mark Elder energises a performance that demonstrates the score’s real musical quality.
Joyce El-Khoury gives an accomplished account of Sylvia, the mistress of the King of Naples, who resents the constant concealment forced upon her. David Junghoon Kim shines as the soldier who is tricked into marrying her to gain her respectability. Vito Priante conveys the ambivalent nature of the king himself, with Evgeny Stavinsky a tower of strength as the priest who brings the whole deception crashing down. Laurent Naouri makes something cogent out of Don Gaspar.
The result may be no lost masterpiece, but it’s an interesting work whose genuine value is amply demonstrated in this remarkable act of reclamation.