In Search of a “Lost” Opera is the title of musicologist Candida Mantica’s detailed account in the booklet describing how she solved “the jigsaw puzzle” of L’Ange de Nisida’s “dismembered” manuscript score and libretto. Commissioned by the Paris Théâtre de la Renaissance, Donizetti completed the opera in 1839. Its premiere was cancelled when the theatre went bankrupt, so the resourceful composer incorporated parts of the score into La Favorite for its December 1840 opening at the Paris Opéra. L’Ange de Nisida remained unheard until 2018 at a concert performance in London; this 2019 production at Bergamo’s Donizetti Opera Festival is its first-ever staged presentation.
Leone, a fugitive after fighting a duel in 15th-century Naples, flees to the island of Nisida, unaware that his beloved Sylvia, called “the angel of Nisida” for her kindness, is King Fernand’s captive mistress. Spoiler alert: no happy ending.
The unconventional, theatre-in-the-round production has the soloists in modern dress, Sylvia sometimes wearing angel wings, the stage illuminated with symbolic projections, strewn with lots of paper representing Mantica’s “jigsaw puzzle.”
Musically, this two-DVD set is enthralling, Donizetti’s endlessly melodious score thrillingly sung by soprano Lidia Fridman (Sylvia), tenor Konu Kim (Leone), baritone Florian Sempey (Fernand), bass-baritone Roberto Lorenzi (Gaspar, Fernand’s chamberlain) and bass Federico Benetti (the Monk who denounces Fernand’s illicit affair). Conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud generates real excitement from the chorus and orchestra, adding to the unique pleasure of witnessing the long-delayed, world-premiere staging of a very entertaining Donizetti opera.