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Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan (1843)
Act 1: Recitative, cavatina, recitative, cabaletta: “Son cifre di Riccardo!...Bella e di sol vestita…Voce fatal di morte…Ogni mio bene in te sperai” (Enrico, Duke of Chevreuse)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk5/3/2010

Editor's Note: OPERA America’s “Aria Talk” column focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on music generally considered somewhat off-the-beaten-track. The hope is that this repertoire will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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The only baritone aria/cabaletta scene by Donizetti that I ever hear in auditions is Enrico’s from Lucia. There’s a lot more where that came from! Maria di Rohan, next-to-last of Donizetti’s more than 50 operas and not as familiar as it deserves to be, boasts a terrific baritone scena where you can show everything you’ve got.

Enrico, Duke of Chevreuse, is imprisoned because he killed Cardinal Richelieu’s nephew in a duel. The king lets him out of prison thanks to the influence of Riccardo, Count of Chalais. The problem? Riccardo was asked to intervene by his former lover, Maria, whose love for him now returns, although she’s actually secretly married to – you guessed it – Enrico! In a recitative in Act Three, Chevreuse, at home in his palace, reads a letter (handed to him by De Fiesque, one of Richelieu’s officers) from Chalais to Maria, which has a portrait of her attached to it. Not unexpectedly, he now believes she’s been unfaithful. In his cavatina he laments his lost happiness, concluding that all he can look forward to in the new day is death. The connecting recitative finds him asking De Fiesque to bring Maria to him. (NOTE: In auditions you’d do only the last bit of this section, minus De Fiesque.) Then, in the cabaletta, he declares that Maria had represented to him the very light of day itself, but now he knows that blood will flow.

The opening recitative needs actor-like, line-by-line response to the text. The explosion on “Maria!” needs all the power you can muster, as does the sustained high F on “Dessa!” (“It is she!”). Donizetti’s elegantly wrought cavatina (in G-flat major, interestingly enough), is centered around the B-flat below middle C, with some very effective arpeggiated ascents and descending stepwise passages. If you can do so in good style -- and if you have an especially easy top – you can extend the cadenza upward. The line moves upward very dramatically in the second recitative (you need another ringing high F here), before the cabaletta begins in a sad B-flat minor. Within it Donizetti ingeniously creates a bridge passage to take the second section into B-flat major. It then proceeds with truly barnstorming energy, and your third high F, at the final cadence, is one you can really sail on – thrilling stuff!

P.S. Yes, it’s long, but no longer than the soprano and mezzo Italian-opera scenas frequently heard in auditions! (If you’re troubled by the length, try cutting the first recitative.)

Score: Donizetti Society
Timing: 1:20 (Recitative #2) + 2:35 (Cavatina) + 0:30 (Recitative #2) + 2:40 (Cabaletta) = 7:25
To hear the complete role: Renato Bruson (CD, Opera d’Oro label); Ettore Kim (CD, Nightingale Classics label)
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About the Author: Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, judges annually for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and regularly advises singers on repertoire choices.
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