Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Furioso all’isola di San Domingo is a perfect vehicle for a Donizettian commentary on the anguish of despair, irresolution and heartbreak with a leavening of self-awareness that is both amused and cathartic. It is no coincidence that the plot derives from Cervantes. Poor Cardenio is to suffer, but never so much as when - as a result of a suitable storm sequence - his unfaithful Eleonora is washed up in 6/8 on the beach. Is this really an opera semi-seria? The printed libretto declares it to be an opera seria in due atti but tradition has allotted the lesstaxing description mostly on behalf of the buffo bass, the black slave Kaidamà of the trenchant wit who is the opera’s star turn. Donizetti offers us a double irony: his slave is the one character liberated from emotional excess, and his comments are the one serious element of this comédie humaine. As a genre opera semi-seria had been expiring quietly when Donizetti wrote Il furioso. The essential Italianità of an opera with something-for-everyone was in decline. Even so the choice of a plot demanding all the virtues and vices, volatile, haphazard, inconsequential - only half-serious (what anathema this must have unleashed oltralpe) proved irresistible to a composer longing to abandon predictability. In this opera we are at the matrix of Donizetti’s attitude to genres. “Comic” and “Tragic” are not necessarily contradictory forces. It would be relatively easy to confirm that each and every one of his opere serie, however dark and imposing, contains at least one wry joke - at least one leavening allusion to the inherent comedy that underpins all our destinies, while each and every one of his opere buffe that keeps its head above farse has its moment of sober reflection.