10. I pazzi per progetto (Gaetano Donizetti)


Farsa posta in musica

By Gaetano Donizetti

Libretto: Domenico Gilardoni

First performance: Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, 6 February 1830.  Performed to only a half full theatre, because of a ball, but Donizetti thought the performance “went off very brilliantly” (Charles Osborne, Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizettti and Bellini).  Performed for a few seasons, then neglected until 1977.


  • DARLEMONT, director of the lunatic asylum, Norina’s uncle (bass)
  • NORINA, Blinval’s wife (soprano)
  • Colonel BLINVAL (bass-baritone)
  • CRISTINA, young Frenchwoman in love with Blinval (mezzo-soprano)
  • VENANZIO, old miser, Cristina’s guardian (bass)
  • EUSTACHIO, trumpeter in Blinval’s regiment, pretending to be a doctor (baritone)
  • FRANK, Darlemont’s servant (bass-baritone)

Setting: A hospital for the insane, Paris


2 stars

Pazzi per progetto CD.jpg

“Io son pazzo e non son pazzo.”

After watching Donizetti’s Pazzi per progetto, a one-act farce set in a lunatic asylum, I feel like a candidate for the padded cell.  While I’m waiting for the kindly gentlemen in white coats to fit me up for one of those natty jackets with the sleeves up the back, I’ll tell you why I’m sticking straws in my hair.

A farce needs a busy, complicated plot – but it should also be logical; the complications should arise from reasonably sane human beings at cross purposes.  (Look, for instance, at the best novels of P.G. Wodehouse or at Fawlty Towers, which are intricate and beautifully constructed.)  This opera isn’t so much complicated as contortuplicated.

There are Colonel Blinval and his wife Norina, separated while he was away in the wars; they each pretend to be dead to test the other’s constancy.  There’s Eustachio, a deserter in the colonel’s regiment who pretends to be a doctor.  There’s Cristina, a Frenchwoman who’s in love with Blinval.  Why is unfathomable; he’s a swaggering lout who whales into Eustachio with his baton.  She pinches Eustachio, so maybe they’re kindred spirits.  Her wicked guardian Venanzio has had her committed so he can lay his claws on her inheritance.  (She claims she’s not mad; they all say that.)

The music sounds like warmed-over early Rossini.  Some of it is; one of the few good jokes in the piece is when Norina, pretending to believe that her husband is dead, sees Blinval, and launches into “Qual mesto gemito”, Semiramide’s scene at Ninny’s tomb, when her husband’s ghost appears.  The final aria, on the other hand, is a reminiscence of Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” (Barber of Seville).  The rest is standard opera buffa, peaks (or hillocks) of conventional music in acres of dry, flat recitative.  There are buffo ensembles, buffo duets, and five buffo basses / baritones.  Five!  When I first heard The Barber of Seville, my favourite song was Enzo Dara’s fleet patter song “A un dottor della mia sorte”.  But five buffo basses?  Too much!

The best piece in the score is “All’udir che il mio tesor”, the charming aria Donizetti wrote for Norina, showing that he could write good music for the voice even when well below par.

To make matters worse, I watched this on a poor quality recording, without subtitles – while trying to follow along on a libretto in shattered French.  (Thanks, Google Translate!)

The CD recording of the production has sharper sound, and is a better introduction to this minor work by one of the masters.


Darlemont, Director of the Hospital for the Mad, Norina’s uncle (bass): Luigi Lablache

Norina, Blinval’s wife (soprano): Luigia Boccabadati

Blinval, Colonel (bass-baritone):

Cristina, young Frenchwoman in love with Blinval (mezzosoprano): Maria Carraro

Venanzio, old miser, Cristina’s guardian (bass): Gennarino Luzio

Eustachio: trumpeter in Blinval’s regiment, pretending to be a doctor (baritone):

Frank, Darlemont’s servant (bass-baritone): Gennaro Ambrosini

Setting: A hospital for the insane in Paris

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