Opera Rara – Donizetti and Friends


In this second concert, Opera Rara bring together Ermonela Jaho and Carlo Rizzi to perform another group of Donizetti’s songs, many of which have never before received recording or even performance. Many of these songs were written as gifts or thank-you presents for friends and admirers, occasional pieces which were never collected. Some have only recently been discovered, for example a set of canzonettas unearthed in an Austrian monastery, and perhaps this process will continue further under the fresh impetus and inspiration of this concert series. There are some real treasures here.

We began with a sequence of early songs that display the composer’s characteristic qualities of an effortless melodic invention combined with a highly sensitive and nuanced response to the texts. The highlights for this reviewer in this opening section were the elegy for his famous ‘frenemy’, Bellini, and a gentle but richly decorated lullaby in which Donizetti really gets inside the mind of the doting mother.  In the former song, Jaho demonstrated exquisite technical control in floating the long melodic line, a characteristic of the deceased composer that his colleague here imitates in this lament. Her finely shaded dynamics throughout brought deserved applause at the end of this set from both the audience and her collaborator.

We don’t generally think of Donizetti as an instrumental composer, but in fact he was fully trained in choral and instrumental genres and left several examples of high-quality work in these genres. We next heard a sonata for violin and piano, played with finesse and panache by the brothers Marco and Carlo Rizzi. The opening section was full of melodic invention equally distributed across both instruments before fizzing display and decoration took over.

In the middle section of the vocal contributions we heard items composed by Donizetti’s contemporaries, including Gounod, Verdi and Pauline Viardot. We once more enjoyed Jaho’s ability to weave an elegant sustained line of tone through two characteristically reflective songs by Bellini, before a complete change of mood in two early Verdi items, keenly dramatised and self-conscious in their theatricality. The second one, ‘Brindisi’,  was delightfully pointed by Jaho with plenty of effervescent humour. Switching to French we were treated to two charming and insinuating salon pieces for which the setting of Wigmore Hall is ideal. The melodies were floated with great delicacy, wit and charm.

After another virtuoso display piece for violin and piano, the final sequence of four later songs, in contrasting moods, was dominated by a lengthy ballad of Schubertian weight and intricacy. This dramatises the end of a lonely fisherman who is seduced by the goddess of the lake on which he sails his boat. This is stuffed full of dramatic Romantic tropes as much for the piano as the voice all dispatched with ease and dramatic plausibility by this skilful pairing.

None of Donizetti’s accompaniments are generally that challenging for the pianist – this is not Hugo Wolf territory! But, all the same, Carlo Rizzi gave excellent support and foundation for Jaho’s artistry. The concert will up on Youtube for a while, and is very well worth catching while you can.

Donizetti’s two hundred songs with piano, including this fine, well balanced programme, will appear in 8 CD volumes on the Opera Rara label, and should go a long way to revising our views of this protean composer.


Wigmore Hall

Performers: Ermonela Jaho, Carlo Rizzi  & Marco Rizzi

23 May 2024

1 hr 15 mins with no interval

Photo Credit: Russell Duncan