Le duc d'Albe

Le duc d'Albe (its original French title) or Il duca d'Alba (its later Italian title) is an opera in three acts originally composed by Gaetano Donizetti in 1839 to a French language libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier. Its title, which translates as The Duke of Alba, refers to its protagonist Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba. The work was intended for performance at the Paris Opéra. However, William Ashbrook notes that "Rosine Stoltz, the director's mistress, disliked her intended role of Hélène and Donizetti put the work aside when it was half completed".[1]

Le duc d'Albe
Il duca d'Alba
Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Set design for the 1882 premiere
22 March 1882 (1882-03-22)

Donizetti then abandoned the score in favour of continuing to work simultaneously on both L'ange de Nisida and L'elisir d'amore,[1] and thus it was nearly 34 years after the composer's death that it was completed by his former pupil Matteo Salvi and received its first performance in an Italian translation and under its Italian title Il duca d'Alba at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on 22 March 1882 with Leone Giraldoni in the title role, Abigaille Bruschi Chiatti as Amelia di Egmont, and Julián Gayarre as Marcello.

It received almost no performances in Italian until the mid-20th century and was only given its first performances in French in May 2012.

Composition history

The opera had been originally commissioned for the Paris Opéra in 1839, and Donizetti worked on it throughout most of that year. However, he abandoned the project with only the first two acts completed, plus notes for the melodies and bass lines for acts 3 and 4.[2] The opera remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1848.

Although abandoned for the Opéra and still incomplete, Donizetti felt that his contract for this opera had been broken and, in late May 1845, decided to leave Vienna for Paris where he would claim a forfeit from the Opéra for its non-production, which was still unfinished, as was the libretto. He left Vienna for the last time on 10 July 1845, but appears to have done nothing about the claim when he arrived in Paris, and his final illness soon claimed him.[3]

In 1855, Scribe and Duveyrier's libretto was transferred to Verdi's opera Les vêpres siciliennes, with the setting changed from the Spanish occupation of Flanders in 1573 to the French occupation of Sicily in 1282.

In 1881 Matteo Salvi, a former pupil of Donizetti's, completed the opera from Donizetti's notes with the help of Amilcare Ponchielli, Antonio Bazzini and Cesare Domeniceti.[4] Angelo Zanardini translated Scribe's libretto from the original French into Italian. The names of the two lovers 'Henri' and 'Hélène' (which by that time had been used in Les vêpres siciliennes) were changed to 'Marcello' and 'Amelia'.[5]

When Donizetti abandoned the opera, he re-cycled the famous tenor aria, 'Ange si pur' ( 'Spirto gentil' in the Italian version) for his 1840 opera La favorite. For the premiere, Salvi composed a replacement aria, 'Angelo casto e bel'. He also added recitatives and combined acts 3 and 4 into a single final act.

Performance history

Original French version

In May 2012 Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp and Ghent presented the first performances of the original French opera in a four-act version, which had been completed in 2012 with additional music by Giorgio Battistelli. [6][7] It used the critical edition prepared by musicologist Roger Parker who has written extensive notes on the evolution of this original version.[8] The French version featured George Petean as the Duke and Rachel Harnisch as Hélène d'Egmont.[9] and it was conducted by Paolo Carignani.

Italian version

The opera has only been rarely performed since 1882[10] and "no one seems even to have remembered its existence, until, that is, Fernando Previtali discovered the battered full-score used by the conductor at that momentous prima on a market stall in Rome [on 12 January 1952]".[11] Prof. Alexander Weatherson of London's Donizetti Society, in his study of the opera's performance history notes that:

Performance history insists that it was under the baton of Fernando Previtali that the treasured score of Il duca d'Alba was brought back to life, complete, in a concert performance in that same city of Rome where it had been discovered on that famous market stall. But this is far from correct. That rebirth version was already abridged, the opera was given in three acts, not four.[11]

However, there was a major revival of the Italian version at the 1959 Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, after conductor Thomas Schippers rediscovered the score [12] (originally found in 1952), reworked it by removing most of Salvi's additions and reconstructing the final acts himself from Donizetti's notes. All the same, Weatherson has also stated:

At the Teatro Nuovo of Spoleto on 11 June 1959 was staged a further purported revival of the Donizetti/Salvi opera, again in three acts, the orchestra reduced throughout to "Donizettian" sound-bites (as though the Paris Opéra of his day would have been deficient in instrumentation), with preludes and recitatives dropped....and pared-down codas. Spirto gentil once again making an inappropriate appearance in place of Angelo casto e bel. This 1959 cut-price version outlined the merest skeleton of the composer's musical plan, Mr Schippers, it would seem, had no taste for grand opera and tried to rewrite Donizetti's score as if it was a melodramma romantico such as he might have composed some ten years before his Paris adventure."[11]

The Spoleto production was directed by Luchino Visconti, who used restored sets from the 1882 premiere.

Schippers presented the United States premiere of the work later that year under the umbrella of the American Opera Society at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on 15 October 1959.

Other stagings included that at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1979 (using sets inspired by Carlo Ferrario's 1882 designs),[11] the run of six performances at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, in December 1979 and January 1980,[13] and, in October 1982, Opera Orchestra of New York gave a concert performance of a version of the opera with Matteo Manuguerra in the title role.[11][14] About this performance, Weatherson notes: "where there were cuts galore but also the restitution of many of the more characterful sections of the Salvi score".[11]

When the Schippers version with the Visconti production was revived at the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto (Festival dei Due Mondi) on 1 July 1992 "...there was a further attempt...this time under the baton of Alberto Maria Giuri [and] when the Donizetti/Salvi Il duca d'Alba finally made an appearance in an edition at last musically worthy of its original dimensions and dramatic character, far more complete now, the Duca d'Alba sung by Alan Titus, Marcello by César Hernàndez, Amelia by Michaela Sburiati, Sandoval by Marco Pauluzzo and Carlo by Dennis Petersen."[11]

On 16 July 2007, a concert performance was given by the Orchestra national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. "It was conducted by Enrique Mazzola; with Inva Mula (Amelia), Franck Ferrari (Duca), Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Marcello), Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Sandoval) and Mauro Corna (Daniele) with the Orchestre National de Montpellier. The performance has been subsequently issued on CD." [11]


Italian / French
Voice type Italian version
Premiere cast,
22 March 1882[15]
(Conductor: Marino Mancinelli)
Il duca d'Alba / Le Duc d'Albe,
Governor of Flanders for King Philip II of Spain
baritone Leone Giraldoni
Amelia di Egmont / Hélène d'Egmont soprano Abigaille Bruschi-Chiatti
Marcello di Bruges / Henri de Bruges,
a Flemish patriot and Amelia's lover
tenor Julián Gayarre
Sandoval, Captain of the Spanish troops baritone Hjalmar Frey
Carlo / Carlos,
a Spanish officer
tenor Giovanni Paroli
Daniele Brauer / Daniel Brauer,
a Flemish patriot
baritone Alessandro Silvestri
Il taverniere / Un Tavernier,
a beer seller
bass Romeo Sartori


Place: Brussels and Antwerp
Time: 1573

Act 1

The Duke of Alba has been sent to Flanders to suppress the rebellion against Spanish rule. Shortly before the action begins, Amelia's father Egmont, a Flemish hero, had been executed by the Duke and she is now determined to assassinate him. The Duke discovers that his long-lost son Marcello, Amelia's lover, is now the leader of the rebellion. The Duke arrests him when he refuses to join the Spanish army.

Act 2

When Marcello is freed from prison, he appeals to the Duke to spare his co-conspirators and Amelia, all of whom have been arrested in Daniele Bauer's tavern. The Duke reveals to Marcello that he is his father. In exchange for his friends' freedom, Marcello kneels before the Duke and acknowledges him as his father.

Act 3

Marcello confesses to Amelia that he is the Duke's son. She asks him to kill the Duke as proof of his love for her. Torn between his father and the woman he loves, Marcello hesitates. Later at the port of Antwerp, Amelia, disguised as a man, takes matters into her own hands and attempts to stab the Duke to death. Marcello throws himself on the Duke to shield him and is unwittingly killed by Amelia.


Italian version: Prepared by Angelo Zanardini, Rome 1882.

Year Cast (Il duca d'Alba,
Marcello di Bruges,
Amelia di Egmont)
Opera house and orchestra
1951 Giangiacomo Guelfi,
Amedeo Berdini,
Caterina Mancini
Fernando Previtali,
Orchestra sinfonica della RAI di Roma
CD: Bongiovanni Historical Opera Collection
Cat: HOC015-16
1959 Louis Quilico,
Renato Cioni,
Ivana Tosini
Thomas Schippers,
Trieste Philharmonic Orchestra
and Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi Chorus
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: OPD1178
1982 Matteo Manuguerra,
Dalmacio González,
Marina Krilovici
Eve Queler,
Opera Orchestra of New York and Schola Cantorum of New York
(Recording of a concert performance in Carnegie Hall,
New York, 28 October)
CD: Omega Opera Archive
Cat: 2574
2007 Franck Ferrari,
Arturo Chacón Cruz,
Inva Mula
Enrique Mazzola,
Orchestre national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
and Latvian Radio Chorus. (Recording of a concert performance)
CD: Accord
Cat: 4800845

Original version using the French text: Completed by Giorgio Battistelli in 2012.[7]

Year Cast (Le Duc d'Albe,
Henri de Bruges,
Hélène d'Egmont)
Opera house and orchestra
2012 Georges Petean,
Ismael Jordi,
Rachel Harnish
Paolo Carignani,
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Vlaamse Opera Antwerp/Ghent
(Recorded at a performance given by the Vlaamse Opera in May 2012)
CD: Dynamic,
Cat: CDS 7665



  1. Ashbrook 1998, p. 1263
  2. Edward Rothstein, 30 May 1992, "A Donizetti Work Is Resurrected, Sets and All", The New York Times
  3. Weinstock 1963, pp. 231—232
  4. John Rockwell, 31 October 1982, "Concert: Eve Queler leads Alba", The New York Times.
  5. Yolen Buldrini, "Dossier: Il Duca d'Alba", on Forum Opéra (in French) (accessed 26 December 2013)
  6. "We asked composer Giorgio Battistelli to finish Donizetti's unfinished opera" Archived 2009-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, on vlaamseopera.be
  7. "Le Duc d'Albe" on the Vlaamse Opera's website Archived 2009-03-10 at the Wayback Machine at vlaamseopera.be/en. Retrieved 26 December 2013
  8. Parker, Roger, "Donizetti's Forgotten French Opera: In Search of Le Duc d'Albe", Donizetti Society (London), June 2012, on donizettisociety.com. Retrieved 9 February 2014
  9. Premiere cast from Donizetti Society, London
  10. See Weatherson, "The 'hache sanglante' of the Duke of Alba", Parts 1, 2, and 3, for a history of the Italian version
  11. Weatherson, "The 'hache sanglante'", Part 3
  12. "Music: Donizetti Revived", Time, 22 June 1959: "In a publisher's warehouse in Milan last fall, Kalamazoo-born conductor Thomas Schippers discovered an opera score dedicated to Queen Margherita of Italy and tied up in purple string. In Spoleto last week, at the opening of Gian Carlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds, he unwrapped his find before a capacity audience. Italian critics promptly hailed the long-forgotten work as one of the finest creations of composer Gaetano Donizetti". Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  13. In-house theatre programme, Il duca d'Alba. Naples, Public Relations Office of the Teatro S. Carlo, 1979. The performances are listed as taking place on 27 and 30 December 1979 and on 3, 6, 9 and 12 January 1980.
  14. Cast and production details on the OONY website Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 12 May 2012
  15. Premiere cast from Casaglia
  16. Source of recording on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk

Cited sources

  • Ashbrook, William (1998), "Le duc d'Albe" in Stanley Sadie (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. One. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005)."Le duc d'Albe, 22 March 1882". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  • Parker, Roger (2012),"Donizetti's Forgotten French Opera: In Search of Le Duc d'Albe", Donizetti Society (London), June 2012, on donizettisociety.com (written in conjunction with the Vlaamse Opera reconstruction performances). Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  • Weatherson, Alexander, "The 'hache sanglante' of the Duke of Alba: Part 1 – A history of the opera", Newsletter 102, October 2007, pub: Donizetti Society (London).
  • Weatherson, Alexander, "The 'hache sanglante' of the Duke of Alba: Part 2 – The structure and numbers of the opera", Newsletter 102, October 2007. pub. Donizetti Society (London).
  • Weatherson, Alexander, "The 'hache sanglante' of the Duke of Alba: Part 3 – The opera's performance history since the 1950s", Newsletter 102, October 2007. pub. Donizetti Society (London). Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  • Weinstock, Herbert (1963), Donizetti and the World of Opera in Italy, Paris, and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, New York: Pantheon Books. LCCN 63-13703

Other sources

  • Allitt, John Stewart (1991), Donizetti: in the light of Romanticism and the teaching of Johann Simon Mayr, Shaftesbury: Element Books, Ltd (UK); Rockport, MA: Element, Inc.(USA)
  • Ashbrook, William (1982), Donizetti and His Operas, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23526-X
  • Ashbrook, William and Sarah Hibberd (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4.
  • Jackson, Alan (in part), "Past Production Report: Donizetti's Le Duc d'Albe", Vlaamse Opera, Antwerp & Ghent, 25 May—2 June 2012", Donizetti Society (London). (Reactions to seeing the Vlaamse Opera's production in 2012)
  • Loewenberg, Alfred (1970). Annals of Opera, 1597–1940, 2nd edition. Rowman and Littlefield
  • Loomis, George (May 15, 2012), "Filling in the Missing Links of an Opera Donizetti Never Finished", The New York Times, May 15, 2102 (An account of the leading up to the 2012 production)
  • Osborne, Charles, (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0-931340-71-3
  • Rosenthal, H. and Warrack, J., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, 1979, Oxford University Press. p. 144
  • Sadie, Stanley, (Ed.); John Tyrell (Exec. Ed.) (2004), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-19-517067-2 (hardcover). ISBN 0-19-517067-9 OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
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