Don Checco is a comic opera written by the composer Nicola De Giosa, a representative of the Neapolitan school of musicians born in Apulia, and Donizetti's favourite pupil at the Conservatory of Naples. De Giosa received a resounding success with Don Checco, for the refined music and the great humour of the libretto by Almerindo Spadetta; the opera remained in the repertoire until 1920.

© Teatro di San Carlo
© Teatro di San Carlo

Don Checco is De Giosa’s masterpiece and one of the greatest successes in the history of Naples' lyrical productions, as is witnessed by the 96 performances of the first production, which took place at the Neapolitan Teatro Nuovo on 11 July 1850, and by a successful theatrical history continued until the late 19th century, so as to become the most performed opera together with Verdi's La traviata.

This revival staging is a collaboration between San Carlo Festival and Festival della della Valle d' Itria of Martina Franca, where it will be performed in 2015, and has been staged in the court theatre of the Royal Palace in Naples.

The subject is typical of Neapolitan comedy: Fiorina (soprano), daughter of the innkeeper Bartolaccio (baritone) is in love with Carletto (tenor), her father’s waiter. The painter Roberto (baritone), who is actually Count de Ridolfi, Lord of the area but incognito, tells Bartolaccio that it is time his daughter had a husband, but Bartolaccio strongly refuses.

In the meanwhile, Don Checco Cerifoglio (basso buffo), evicted for non-payment of rent and taxes to the Count and chased by a bailiff, Succhiello Scorticone (baritone), takes refuge in the inn. It having been rumoured that the count is in the neighbourhood; Don Checco is mistaken by Bartolaccio for the Count De Ridolfi in disguise, and is treated accordingly. The two young lovers seek the supposed Count’s intercession in order to obtain Bartolaccio’s consent to their marriage. Roberto (the true Count) overhears and keeps up the joke, urging Don Checco to intercede for the lovers and to give them a dowery to overcome Bartolaccio’s opposition.

Don Checco, in despair for the bailiff’s threat, consents and the marriage is prepared, but his true identity is discovered. The innkeeper is to oust him and the poor devil would certainly be arrested by Succhiello if in the meantime a peasant had not brought a letter, signed by the true Conte De Ridolfi, where he says that the debts of Don Checco are to be considered extinct and that the two young lovers will be able to marry due to a sum made ​​available by the nobleman.

© Teatro di San Carlo
© Teatro di San Carlo

Bartolaccio is pacified, consents to the marriage and offers Don Checco a home. Everyone rejoices and the work ends with Don Checco singing an exhilarating praise of debts as a universal condition of man, in which all theatrical professions – the librettist, composer, director, impresario and singers – can wallow: one can easily think of the conditions of San Carlo, the Opera of Rome and a large part of the Lyric Foundations in Italy today.

Don Checco represents the best comic tradition of the Neapolitan musical theatre in the 19th century and – given its sudden success as a Neapolitan opera which was set up in almost all the national territory – was perceived as a quality "musical product" to be presented in different forms, formulas and adaptations and on which the best editors and arrangers of the time worked. 

This sketch of Neapolitan life (Don Checco speaks and sings in dialect), is a comedy of errors brought to music with tuneful and bright modes. The musical writing, smooth and pleasant, accompanies with lightness the adventures of the protagonists: the libretto is essentially a small, enjoyable, dialect comedy with extensive dialogues in prose and "closed pieces" in music, in dialect or in Italian, which are always fitted and fun.

The story is staged by director Lorenzo Amato as a traditional Neapolitan farce. The tavern scene is simply and effectively drawn by Nicola Rubertelli the costumes designed by Giusi Giustino in a more modern fashion than the original libretto.

The score is a stream of music, full of quotes, well-orchestrated and conducted at hectic pace, with frantic cabalettas of the protagonist Don Checco, who only sang and spoke in Neapolitan. Basso Bruno Taddia was up the challenge with a measured and elegant rendition of the comedy. Other roles were well sung, too: particularly noticeable was the Spanish soprano Carmen Romeu in the role of Fiorina, the daughter of the innkeeper Bartolaccio, and only woman on stage. Carletto was the young and lively tenor Fabrizio Paesano, baritone Giulio Mastrototaro gave his voice to dour Bartolaccio, Roberto (the Count) was interpreted by baritone Salvatore Grigoli.

The opera was a real surprise, pleasant and fun, with a well-curated production, a very good cast and accomplished conducting of Francesco Lanzillotta, with a good performance from the male chorus and the small orchestra.