85. Caritea, regina di Spagna (Saverio Mercadante)

Melodramma serio in 2 acts

Composer: Saverio Mercadante

Libretto: Paolo Pola

First performed: Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 21 February 1826


  • CARITEA (soprano): Ester Mombelli
  • DON ALFONSO, King of Portugal (tenor): Domenico Donzelli
  • DON DIEGO, under the name of Don Pirro of Aragon, son of Don Fernando (contralto): Isabella Fabbrica
  • DON FERNANDO, old Spanish captain general (bass): Domenico Cosselli
  • DON RODRIGO, other Spanish captain general, Caritea’s ambassador (tenor): Giuseppe Binaghi
  • CORRADO, Portuguese official: Brigada Lorenzani Nerici
  • Chorus of Spanish knights, Portuguese soldiers; Caritea’s maids, Portuguese and Spanish soldiers, Diego’s soldiers, people


Toledo, and on the banks of the Tagus at Don Alfonso’s camp


King Alfonso of Portugal has declared war on Spain, after Queen Caritea rejected his suit.  To her aid comes Don Pirro, who is really one Don Diego in disguise, who killed his rival for the Queen’s affection 20 years ago, and fled with a bounty on his head.  Don Diego kills Don Alfonso, then reveals his identity.  The Queen forgives him; they marry.


Trio from introduzione.




Mad scene for tenor Don Alfonso.

Tenor / contralto duet.

Rondo finale.


3 stars.png

“There exists more than one painting by a student of Rubens that one would mistake for the master’s work,” wrote Henri Blaze de Bury.

“I will say as much of certain scores by Generali, Caraffa, Mercadante (in his first period), Pacini and many others, which are only simple copies, but copies so exact that posterity will be deceived, if by chance they reach them without the author’s name.”

Caritea, regina di Spagna may have been one of the works Blaze de Bury had in mind.

Mercadante’s 22nd work – and in seven years! – there is little to distinguish it from Rossini.

The structure follows the coda Rossini closely, with introduzione, contralto hero in travesti, set-piece arias, florid singing, and little drama.

The difference is that one is a genius, writing in his own voice, in a style he developed, and the other an (at this stage) competent practitioner, turning out a well-crafted product, in the accepted style.

The opera was well received at its premiere at La Fenice in 1826.  The Gazetta di Venezia wrote: “This new child of Mercadante’s creative vein met with such success from start to finish that we, despite 25 years of almost daily presence at the opera in which we have seen no few triumphs by great maestros, have never seen its like before.”

Matteo Summa (CD notes) believes it was the most popular opera since Rossini’s Otello and Semiramide.  (What of Rossini’s other operas?  What of Meyerbeer?)  The opera was performed throughout Italy, and one chorus – “Chi per la patria muor”- was adopted as a Risorgimento anthem, long before Verdi.

There are some attractive pieces – the terzetto in the introduzione; a duet for two tenors, brandishing high notes in territorial display; and another duet, for tenor and contralto, a splendid example of bel canto machismo (even if one of them’s a dame in drag!).

For the rest, there are some lyrical passages, amidst what often feels like vocal display for its own sake, ornamentation and cadenzas without melody or meaning.  Caritea belongs to the age of music without drama, the concert in costume.

At nearly three hours, moreover, the opera is long-winded.  It lacks the tautness and pace of Mercadante at his best, the sense of events hurtling towards a crescendo he inherited from Meyerbeer and Halévy.

It is markedly inferior to Mercadante’s later operas, particularly the monumental Orazi e Curiazi or Virginia, which combine grandiose frescoes, unusual harmonies and orchestration, Classical subjects, strong emotions, and sensational endings.

This is the third performance from Martina Franca I’ve reviewed in a row.  Two were by Mercadante, two were Rossinian imitations, and none of them had a first-rate cast.


Caritea.jpgNana Gordaze (Caritea), Jacek Laszczkowski (Don Alfonso), Sonia Lee (Don Diego), Nicolas Rivenq (Don Fernando), Gregory Bonfatti (Don Rodrigo), Ayhan Ustuk (Corrado), with the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia Opera and Coro da Camera di Bratislava conducted by Giuliano Carella.

7 thoughts on “85. Caritea, regina di Spagna (Saverio Mercadante)

  1. Have you ever noticed that no one remembers that eight-year period Meyerbeer was in Italy? Well, except Opera Rara. It’s like Northern Italy totally forgot that time with the super-rich sugar baron descended from Berlin, learned everything from us over the course of eight long years, and then went to Paris and wrote four of the most freaking awesome operas ever!


    1. Emma di Resburgo, Semiramide, and Margherita d’Anjou have all been done outside Opera Rara – and La Fenice produced Crociato.


      1. All six of them – eventually. No, my next few are a Danish work, a Donizetti, a Mercadante, a Rameau, a Russian opera (if it’s got the libretto!), and an English one.


      2. Oh well you like Rameau! Can’t wait to find out what the “Danish one” might be. Donizetti, please not Don Pasquale, that thing makes me want to barf. I love Maria Stuarda though. Russian is generally good, Rimsky? Please not Servilia, I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy! Ah English operas, I should probably do a Britten sometime. Maybe Turn of the Screw? I’ve seen it twice.

        I’ve contemplated doing Emma di Resburgo and Margherita d’Anjou, I’m also stuck in act two of Crociato. Every four months or so I go back to it and do around 30-40 minutes, but you can feel all 240 minutes of it.


      3. No, it’s Maria di Rudenz – which is full of catacombs, stabbing, madness, and a heroine who dies TWICE.

        And the English opera is the British version of La nonne sanglante!

        God, yes, Crociato is 4 hours! But it’s Meyerbeer, so there’s a lot of great stuff. Best way of doing a long opera: pace yourself. Do Act I on one night. Do Act II the next.

        When I first listened to the Ring, a dozen years ago, I listened to one opera a weekend. It worked better that way!

        (Not counting listening to Rheingold at the age of 7, because I liked Norse mythology)


      4. You listened to Rheingold, at the age of 7? You knew that opera existed at the age of seven? I saw Scotto in Maria di Rudenz, I remember liking it, but mostly because I hated Matilde! I started Crociato last October, I finished act one in April and started act 2.

        Oh wow, there actually is a recording of Loder’s Raymond and Agnes! Who would have known?


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