Gaetano Donizetti: Dom Sébastien

Donizetti Critical Edition

Edited by Mary Ann Smart (2004)

Two-volume set: score + critical commentary pp. I-XXXVIII, 1-490 / 491-965
NR 136543
Piano vocal score available
CP 136546

Gaetano Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien on a libretto by Eugène Scribe went on stage for the first time at the Opéra in Paris on 13 November 1843 enjoying a huge success. Even before its Parisian première the composer had made an agreement with his contacts at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna to stage the opera there in the course of the following season. In this way the opera premiered in Vienna on 6 February 1845, after being revised by the composer. Finally, in 1847 the opera was revived in Milan (Teatro alla Scala), though Donizetti, seriously ill, was not able to supervise the staging; the version prepared for this production – quite different to the previous two authorised by the composer – was the one on which all the subsequent editions were based (including those still in use prior to the publication of the present edition).

The critical edition of Dom Sébastien reflects the original French version. In fact, an evaluation of manuscript sources kept in France and in Vienna allowed the structure of the opera as Donizetti originally conceived it to be restored: a text in French with the addition of some changes made by the author for the Vienna production in 1845 (the final concertato and other numbers composed for Vienna, added in appendix).

The most recent research on Dom Sébastien has proved that Donizetti was never directly engaged in any Italian version of the opera. The Italian version of 1847, restaged in 1955 by Carlo Maria Giulini at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival presents many musical variations, made to adapt the music to the Italian text, besides a significant divergency from Donizetti’s autograph in the finale of the third Act.

Where possible, the edition was based on the autograph score by Donizetti. Where the autograph presented lacunas, two other sources in Paris provided support, both being produced very shortly after the premiere: a manuscript score copied at the Opéra in 1843 and the first published score, from late 1843 or early 1844.

The critical edition of Dom Sébastien offers traces of Frenchism in details of vocal articulation, or in details of orchestration and instrumentation, such as the use of two Bass clarinets – recently invented in Paris by Adolphe Sax – in the inquisition scene of the fourth act.

As to the definition of a French style, it happens to be an omission rather than an addition that provides a particularly significant aspect: the cabaletta in Zayda’s aria in the second act was given at the last performance of the Viennese season, as a homage to Clara Stöckl-Heinefetter (the Zayda of the Porta Carinzia Theatre). The critical edition places the cabaletta in appendix, so as to restore the original form of Zayda’s clou performance as an aria in one movement (romance).

To conclude, what characterises this edition is precisely the pursuit of a subtle balance between the “native” conventions of Italian opera and a genre which in a certain sense was extraneous to the author’s concept of opera, a balance Donizetti himself had to master to write a French-style grand opéra.