Gaetano Donizetti was still under the tutelage of his teacher, Simone Mayr, in his native Bergamo when he started working on his opera buffa Le nozze in villa. With a libretto by Bartolomeo Merelli, based on a comedy by the German August von Kotzebue Die deutschen Kleinstädter (The Provincials), it was probably presented with little success during the 1819 carnival season in Mantua and, in the next couple of years, in Treviso and Genoa. After that, it totally disappeared from the repertory. Continuing a remarkable initiative – to stage every Donizetti opera on its bicentennial – Bergamo’s Donizetti Opera decided to revive the opera for this year’s edition of the festival dedicated to the composer. It was already a daunting task to start with, considering the fact that there is no original printed copy of the libretto, no autograph score and, on top of that, a second act quintet – “Aura gentil, che mormori” – was completely missing. So, in order to succeed in their endeavor to bring the opera back from the realm of the forgotten, the festival commissioned a new version of the quintet from Elio and Rocco Tanica with the collaboration of Enrico Melozzi that, truth be told, seamlessly blended with the rest of the score.

Le nozze in villa
© Gianfranco Rota

There were obvious additional challenges in the current environment. Instead of presenting Le nozze in villa in the newly renovated theater, the third Donizetti opera was presented online, filmed in a spectator-less opera house. Always following social distancing rules, director Davide Marranchelli and set designer Anna Bonomelli tried to take advantage of the situation, coming up with an imaginative mise-en-scène. The orchestra was placed on stage with the wind players behind a plexiglass screen. The auditorium was covered with green strips of artificial turf and, in a preamble to the performance, five mask-wearing youngsters used the area for a little soccer game. Conductor Stefano Montanari seized the football, punctured it with several dagger blows, and then raised his baton to signal the start of the overture.

Stefano Montanari
© Gianfranco Rota

Donizetti’s Wedding in the Villa has a predictable underlying story. Don Petronio wants to marry his daughter Sabina to a certain Trifoglio, but she is in love with Claudio. Surprised with a portrait of her lover, the girl makes her grandmother Anastasia (and hence the entire village) believe the image is actually that of the King. After all sorts of misunderstandings, learning that there is no dowry, Trifoglio decides to give up the girl's hand and Don Petronio agrees with her marrying Claudio, indeed a wealthy landowner. The synthetic green lawn proves to be a metaphor for the entire stage concept. The 18th-century villa of the original story is transfigured into a kitschy contemporary conveyor belt-like wedding venue with huge white cakes and swan sculptures made from balloons. Sabina is a photographer, her father – sporting a tricolore sash – is the mayor who officiates the rites, Trifoglio, her betrothed, is a sort of master of ceremonies and the soccer players from the beginning are attendants working on the premises. Dressed by costume designer Linda Riccardi, Trifoglio and other characters are, in the director’s words, true “tamarri”, the Italian term denoting ignorant and ill-mannered individuals.

Giorgio Misseri (Claudio) and Gaia Petrone (Sabina)
© Gianfranco Rota

Le nozze in villa is the work of a young composer in the process of discovering his own path. The music does sound imitative, Rossini’s shadow looming high over the score (an aria sung by Nonna Anastasia, authoritative mezzo Manuela Custer, sounded very much like the one sung by Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia). Nevertheless, vocal ensembles were well balanced and the orchestral music was beautifully shaped with noticeable woodwinds interventions.

Fabio Capitanucci (Trifoglio)
© Gianfranco Rota

Switching around from accompanying recitatives at the keyboard to conducting with great verve, Montanari led with confidence the historically informed instrumentalists of Gli originali and the Donizetti Opera Chorus, even if the synchronization between singers and orchestra was not always perfect. Meritoriously, he easily brought forward both the sparkling spirit and the melodiousness of the score. The most accomplished of the evening’s soloist was mezzo Gaia Petrone in the role of Sabina. She displayed a full, rounded, mellifluous voice in several arias. As her love interest, Claudio, tenor Giorgio Misseri became more and more assured as the evening progressed. Voices occasionally shaky, the two baritones – Omar Montanari (Don Petronio) and Fabio Capitanucci (Trifoglio) – acted with confidence, navigating with panache through the convoluted plot.

This performance was reviewed from the live Donizetti Web TV video stream