Donizetti’s Opera Poliuto performed at Glyndebourne in 2015

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Donizetti
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Donizetti
WORKS: Poliuto
PERFORMER: Michael Fabiano, Ana María Martínez, Igor Golovatenko, Matthew Rose, Timothy Robinson, Emanuele D’Aguanno; Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Mazzula; dir. Mariame Clément (Glyndebourne, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1211 D; Blu-ray: OABD 7201 D

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Donizetti’s 54th opera was written in 1838 for Naples, but its subject – Christian martyrdom in third-century Armenia – proved unacceptable, and it was never performed in Italy in its original form during his lifetime. Instead, he took it with him to Paris, where he expanded it as the French grand opera Les Martyrs (1840). This version subsequently enjoyed currency in Italian translation; but Poliuto itself wasn’t performed until Naples put it on as an act of homage following the composer’s death in 1848. Glyndebourne claims the 2015 staging filmed here to be the UK stage premiere, but University College Opera presented a non-fully-professional production in 1967. 

It’s a concentrated, sombre piece, in which the Armenian nobleman Poliuto accepts martyrdom for the sake of his Christian beliefs at the hands of the Roman occupiers, ironically commanded by his wife Paolina’s former fiancé, Severo; eventually Paolina, too, converts and so chooses to face the lions with her husband. 

Anyone disputing Donizetti’s greatness as a musical dramatist should experience this, because he keeps his eye constantly on the dramatic ball and the result is one of his most impressive scores. Conductor Enrique Mazzola proves to be a fine advocate for it, drawing exceptional playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mariame Clément’s stagings gives us stark, monumental sets and a non-specific, late 20th-century setting. Michael Fabiano brings bright, airy tone and both feeling and fine acting to Poliuto. Ana-María Martínez is a grand-scale, often thrilling Paolina, and Igor Golovatenko a stentorian and yet surprisingly complex Severo, with Matthew Rose once again offering one of his high-quality, high-priest specialities.

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George Hall