Donizetti, Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali
The Salzburger Landestheater was presenting something they called “Viva la Diva” by Donizetti. Since Donizetti never wrote an opera by that name, and the name itself looked suspect, I assumed it was a pastiche or a mishmash of Donizetti works, a sort-of dumbing-down of the opera. So I did not plan on going. Then I found it is actually was a rebranding of Donizetti’s Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, which is a real, if seldom-performed, opera. So I went, and am now glad I did.
The Landestheater’s concept behind this production is essentially this: Donizetti himself changed his operas depending on various surrounding circumstances, leading to differences in performances. This particular opera – based on two farces combined – itself had multiple versions by the composer, and the farcical nature of the plot meant that it was particularly suitable to story fluctuations to work in more topical jokes appropriate for the time and location of the performance. So there is no “definitive” version to begin with, just an underlying plot with a changeable frame.
The underlying plot has to do with theater conventions in Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries, and stereotypes that grew out of them (for example, with divas behaving badly, unscrupulous managers, parents over-pushing their children, and differences in nationalities leading to other conventions and confusions). These all lead to further problems (the “inconvenienze”). Many of these stereotypes still remain, so the underlying plot works. The Landestheater simply updated the frame (and the name – I am not sure why they needed to give it a new name – perhaps catchier than the original but still).
This approach worked because they also did not try to do too much with it. They kept the frame simple and let the underlying original fend for itself, with Donizetti’s appropriately fun music (performed with verve by the Mozarteum Orchestra under Adrian Kelly). In this sense it did not get too crazy, even as they clearly updated characters to give them new identities while keeping the personalities.
The cast worked well – not only individually (quite a strong cast for this little theater, actually) but also interacting as a whole. This despite an apparent late substitution of the prima donna – Ulpiana Aliaj from Tirana was the understudy (this must be quite a role to be an understudy for, as the opera is so rarely performed it would not be in many people’s repertory, particularly in a German-language translation, not to mention German-language dialogues that were part of the frame and not the original; Aliaj did just fine!). The rest of the cast members either come from the Landestheater’s ensemble (as was the original prima donna whom Aliaj replaced) or are regular guests, so this would suggest they should have made a nice ensemble, but they did not disappoint. George Humphreys as Agatha (a baritone role in drag – as it indeed was in the original Donizetti opera) had a huge stage presence (indeed, he is generally a rather tall human being) and hammed up his role to be the audience favorite. Hazel McBain, Raimundas Juzuitas, Zsófia Mózer, Gustavo Quaresma, and Franz Supper all contributed in other leading roles, each displaying full voices and rounded acting.
So while I suppose there is a reason this opera never gets performed (frankly, there are better period farces and Donizetti has also written more inspired music), it did provide an evening of great fun. I do find it nice that the Landestheater dusts off some of these forgotten operas.