Viva la Mamma, Opera by G. Donizetti
Gaetano Donizetti was one of the most versatile composers of opera in the first half of the nineteenth century. So who better than him to poke fun at the genre that made his name and fortune?
Viva la mamma, set to be one of the highlights of this season’s operas in Prague, is a musical adaptation of two plays by Antonio Simone Sografi, Le convenienze teatrali and Le inconvenienze teatrali. Donizetti never called the work Viva la mamma. The name we know the opera by today was a shorter and - please forgive the pun - more convenient title adopted only in the 1960s.
The action centres on an opera company falling into disarray. Rehearsals are undermined by squabbling over who has the better part, the prima donna or the seconda donna. The latter’s mother then starts arguing with the director, insisting on a more expansive role for her daughter.
Things start to fall apart. The tenor abandons the production, the prima donna’s husband replaces him, and the arguments continue. The police are called in. Calm briefly descends upon the company, but a financial storm is brewing. The production is cancelled, leaving cast and company with no means of paying their investors.
An incomplete version of Viva la mamma, based on the first of Sografi’s two plays, was premiered at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples on 21 November 1827. Donizetti then supplemented the work with further material from the second of Sografi’s two companion dramas, and Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali took to the stage for the first time at the Teatro alla Canobbiana (called, later on, the Teatro Lirico) in Milan on 20 April 1831.
Gaetano Donizetti, alongside Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini, is one of the great writers of bel canto. His talent, as a composer, was boundless and moved effortlessly between tragedy and farce. A catalogue that includes L’elisir d’amore, Anna Bolena and La favorite testifies to Donizetti’s great skill and range.
Viva la mamma is perhaps the most modern of Donizetti’s works. An opera where the jokes come one after the other, and which gave Donizetti an opportunity to parody the musical style that made him famous. Donizetti laughed at artistic temperaments as much as we do today, demonstrating a capacity for self-deprecation that is at the heart of all great comedy.