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Auber & Donizetti “Double Bill”

Teatro Comunale “Giuseppe Verdi”
Trieste – cond Arturo Basile


Deutsche Grammophon – 00289 477 5628

Recorded 1966 – 2 CDs – 66.16 and 76.23 minutes


Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo – Giuseppe Campora

Lord Cockburn – Marci Stecci

Lady Pamela – Margaret Simoncini

Lorenzo – Romano Grigolo

Matteo – Vito Susca

Zerlina – Cecilia Fusco

Giacomo – Alfredo Mariotti

Beppo – Paolo Mazzotta


La figlia del reggimento (La Fille du Regiment)

Tonio – Ugo Benelli

Maria – Anna Maccianti

Sulpizio – Alfredo Mariotti

La Marchese – Flora Rafanelli

Ortensio – Enzo Viaro

Un caporale – Vito Susca


Auber is a composer whose name has almost been dropped from the awareness of opera goers, but mention his most successful work Fra Diavolo or The Devil's Brother to Laurel & Hardy aficionados and they will immediately recall the tale of a notorious 18 th century Neopololitan gentleman brigand, with two comic side-kicks, Giacomo and Beppo: (inevitably renamed Stanlio and Ollio in the 1930's film version) and Auber's music heard in the background*. The gangsters' attempt to steal Lady Pamela Cockburn's diamonds is thwarted by the ingenuity of Zerlina, who is desperate to win the reward money to provide a dowry and her right to marry Lorenzo, the man of her choice.


In fact both Auber and Donizetti were masters of the art of comic opera, producing works that were frothy, bursting with energy and good humour, above all good entertainment. The sort of thing that would send an audience home merrily humming or whistling the infectious tunes, ready to recommend the show to their friends and eager to buy the sheet music.


The two pieces recorded here make a good pair. Fra Diavolo was an instant success with the public and the French took La fille du Regiment, with its patriotic sounding military marches, so much to heart that for many years it was traditionally performed up and down the country on Bastille Day. In it the orphan Marie has literally been adopted by a regiment and brought up as a sort of mascot. The Marchese intervenes and takes her home to a more suitable environment where she can learn to sing, dance and pass her time in the way that a respectable young lady should – much to Marie's boredom. Not before time the regiment turns up at the chateau, fresh from success on the battlefield. Amidst the general rejoicing the secret of Marie's parentage is revealed and her engagement to Tonio, her dashing military suitor, is finally approved.


Sung here in the Italian language versions, they are given good ensemble performances with no individual singer standing out for special mention. Solos sparkle, choruses are rousing and the orchestra plays with gusto. Each opera lasts for just over an hour, and both are thoroughly enjoyable in a brash, light hearted way. Like the small print on food wrappers these days, I would like to add a small warning – these Italian versions contain cuts.


Both pieces originated as full length operas, to French libretti, and commissioned by the Paris Opera Comique (in 1830 and 1840 respectively). Donizetti was himself responsible for the Italian adaptation of La Fille du Regiment . He replaced the spoken French dialogue with sung recitatives (largely dropped altogether in this performance), scrapped the Marquise's couplets and Tonio's charming romance Pour me rapprocher de Marie, but added Feste? Pompe? Omaggi? A few additional cuts seem to have been made for this recording.


The Fra Diavolo Italian edition is by Manfredo Maggioni, and quite simply involves a general contraction of every item, for example the Act III Finale is condensed from 13 minutes to just 2 ¼ .


It is worth seeking out the complete French versions, especially since they are readily available. ( Fra Diavolo on EMI on 7243 5 75251 2 with Gedda, Mesple, and Monte Carlo PO conducted by Soustrot and La fille du Regiment on Decca 414 520-2 with Sutherland, Pavarotti, ROH Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Bonynge.) For a start you get a lot more music, (45 minutes for Fra Diavolo and 30 minutes for Fille du Regiment) and t here's also good deal more finesse and subtlety in these originals. But if you just want to sample a flavour of these two as an agreeable bonn e bouche then Deutsche Grammophon's CD is well worth acquiring.


* Fra Diavolo and La Fille du Regiment on film and DVD

Fra Diavolo has proved a popular opera in the cinema . As well as the Hal Roach Comedy referred to above, there was a 1911 silent version directed by Alice Guy-Blanche, notable for its 45min length - a record at that time; Fra Diavolo was chosen as one of a series of 15 minute films under the general title Tense Moments from Opera produced by Harry B Parkinson in 1922 for which separate sound recordings were made to be played alongside; and it was also the subject of the first ever sound recording of an opera, made by Mario Bonn ard in France in 1931. There have also been half a dozen or so films based on the Fra Diavolo legend starting with a 1906 Mexican production Fra Diavolo en la Alameda and continuing to the most recent the Italian I trombone ie Fra Diavolo (Simonelli – 1962).


La Fille du Regiment has fared almost as well – a two minute scene was filmed as early as 1898, intended to be shown without sound. In 1900 Polin was filmed from La Scala singing one aria, and there is a 1970's puppet version with Sutherland's voice on the soundtrack.

Serena Fenwick


See also La Scala Milan DVD with Marialla Devia & Ewa Podles (Editor)

© Peter Grahame Woolf