censorship

Opera was at the center of nineteenth century society. Romantic, political, and diplomatic intrigue all occurred in opera houses, and great composers often used their work as a medium for political statements. Because of this, governments regarded theatres as "potential founts of sedition or disorder." In an effort to control questionable storylines, censorship was applied to operas in many countries.

Like other composers of his time, Donizetti experienced censorship on several occasions. Two months before The Elixir of Love premiered, Donizetti's opera Ugo conte di Parigi was censored. While this experience did not stop Donizetti from composing, it did prompt a "deliberate campaign throughout the rest of his Italian career to push the censors to the limits in his efforts to deal with powerful subjects."

In November of 1834 he signed a contract to produce one opera seria every year for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. By September he had completed his first opera, Maria Stuarda, based on a libretto written by Schiller which dealt with the life and death of Mary Queen of Scots. The censors objected to this opera which ended with the execution of a monarch, so Donizetti was forced to make revisions. It wasn't until December 30, 1835 that Maria Stuarda was performed.

Donizetti continued to challenge the censors with his operas. In 1838 as part of his contract with Naples he composed Poliuto, an opera based on a classical work which dealt with faith. The King of Naples banned it after its premiere saying, "Let's leave the saints in the calendars and not put them on stage." With this, Donizetti severed his ties with Naples and moved to Paris.

In spite of difficulties with censors, Donizetti experienced a successful career. Elixir, The Daughter of the Regiment, and Don Pasquale all receive numerous performances worldwide, and Lucia di Lammermoor, written immediately following his battle over Maria Stuarda, was one of the ten most frequently performed operas during the 2000/2001 opera season.

Information for this article is from "The New Grove Dictionary of Opera"

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