Linda di Chamounix

Gaetano Donizetti

Linda di Chamounix

About this work

Even for an opera, this libretto is unusually sappy, complete with a sweet, naive heroine, her poor but honest and proud parents, a nobleman in disguise who falls in love with aforesaid heroine, his family insisting that he marry another, a kindly village prefect, a villain who all but twirls his moustache, a sad song about a fallen woman, and of course, given all this, a mad scene for the heroine.

But the villain in Linda de Chamounix is unusual, despite all the trouble he causes, and despite the obligatory dramatic ensemble when Linda's parents realize his intentions are not good: he is sung by a basso buffo and is a comic figure rather than a menacing one. The contrast is drawn most strongly in the second-act duet when he makes buffo-style advances towards Linda, and she rejects them in a style right out of opera seria. It's this lightness that keeps the story from becoming completely laughable for modern listeners. For example, the heroine reacts to a request for an embrace from her beloved with a horror that would be more credible if he had asked her to embrace a venomous snake!

The opera is best known for Linda's sparkling "Ah, tardai troppo...O luce di quest'anima" from the first act, a delightful showpiece for coloratura agility and one of opera's most demanding entrance scenes. But the rest of the work has appealing melodies as well, and even despite the plot, the music for Linda's father, with its tenderness, anger, and pride, seems to be pointing the way towards the fathers that Verdi depicted so powerfully in Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, and Giovanna d'Arco.

The role of Linda di Chamounix was originally created by one of the great coloratura stars of the time, Eugenia Tadolini. Donizetti so loved her performance that he said she had turned Linda's mad scene into a dramatic vehicle superior to even that of Lucia Di Lammermoor. The premiere, on May 19, 1842, was such a success that Donizetti was called out for bows at the end of the performance a total of 17 times; the theater was packed every night of its first run, and the work received great critical praise. The success of Linda would eventually lead to Donizetti's appointment as Kapellmeister at the Austrian court.

For its Paris premiere (1842), Linda di Chamounix again benefited from a singer's star power. For his Parisian Linda, Fanny Taccinardi-Persiani, Donizetti composed an additional set piece, entitled "O luce di quest'anima," which has remained an extremely important work in the coloratura repertoire. The dual successes of its Vienna and Paris premieres guaranteed the work's popularity through the end of the nineteenth century, but its revivals declined sharply in the twentieth century. The opera now occupies a marginal place in the repertory -- not quite obscure, but not on a level with the composer's more frequently performed works.