Gaetano Donizetti: Poliuto

Donizetti Critical Edition

Edited by William Ashbrook, Roger Parker (2000)

Two-volume set: score + critical commentary pp. I-XXVII, 1-397 / 399-633
NR 135658
Piano vocal score available
CP 135661

In comparison with the problems raised by many (perhaps most) of Donizetti’s operas, arguments about which version of Poliuto to use are for the most part straightforward, though there have been some difficult decisions. The base text offered in this edition is, in accordance with the edition’s general criteria, that left in the composer’s autograph score, which we can presume was the version he intended to be performed in Naples in 1838. We have no evidence that further performances of the opera took place during his lifetime. This version has many qualities, not least its economy of means and sense of dramatic pacing.

Appendices 2 and 3 are easily dealt with. Appendix 3 is included merely for the sake of completeness: unless the “nuovo Largo” to which it leads is discovered, it cannot be performed. Appendix 2 (the replacement cabaletta for Paolina in Act I) is a different matter. Although it is clearly by Donizetti, we have no evidence as to its provenance. However, we can guess that it was composed with a view to accommodating the specific skills of a potential performer: its vocal profile is clearly different from that of the original cabaletta, being suited to a voice with a powerful lower register but equal agility throughout the compass. As such it may prove an interesting alternative in performances where an appropriate soprano is available.

Appendix 1 (the Ouverture from Les Martyrs) is a more difficult case. None of the other additions deriving from Les Martyrs that were translated into Italian and incorporated into Poliuto find a place in this edition, for the simple reason that in no cases do we have evidence that the composer was involved in their translation or incorporation. But the Ouverture is different, in that no “translation” is necessary and there is evidence that the piece has been a rather constant part of Poliuto’s reception history, even appearing in the opera’s premiere in 1848. If the Ouverture is performed, then the opera’s original Preludio should of course be omitted.>

The most problematic decision was raised by a series of (mostly small) autograph amendments made by the composer to a copyist’s score of Poliuto. The amendments almost certainly post-date Les Martyrs and, far from being accommodations for possible new performance conditions, they seem in all cases rather to be intended as improvements to the score. In most cases, these changes were carried over into the base text, though always with a footnote alerting performers and scholars to the original autograph reading. When a cut has been marked by the composer, the original text is retained, but marked in the score the extent of the cut, thus again allowing performers to make their own decision about which version to use.