The opening night for the opera proved to be rather tumultuous due to an unscrupulous promoter over-selling the house. Donizetti had to pay a scalper for his own seat to the premiere and frustrated ticket-holders inside and out erupted into a riot when they found that the seats they had bought were already filled by other ticket holders. In spite of the challenges of opening night, the critical response to Adelia was positive and the opera ended up being a financial success. However, Donizetti was never happy with the quality of the overall work. In his book The Bel Canto Operas, Charles Osborne says that "Donizetti believed that Adelia was a failure, and blamed himself for having accepted a libretto which he felt lacked dramatic situations, passion, or even verses capable of inspiring him."
Today Adelia is infrequently performed and widely unknown. Although the music is regarded highly, critics have noted that the plot of the opera is somewhat convoluted and silly which may be one reason why this opera is not performed often. New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini said, "The score is distinguished by its endlessly inventive melodic flow, subtle harmonic shifts and elegant dramatic understatement." Opera News said, "Donizetti privately fumed at the requirement by Roman authorities that the opera have a happy ending. An improbable denouement, along with the static action and underdeveloped characters, no doubt has much to do with the near-total neglect of Adelia, even in Italy. Some of the opera is admittedly Donizetti in auto-pilot, rum-ti-tum mode, but Adelia offers plenty of fine music. The sprightly overture, the rousing vendetta aria for Arnoldo and the chorus, the lilting music for Odetta and the attendants as they dress Adelia's hair, and the Act II trio are all notably melodic and well wrought. The extended love duet for Oliviero and Adelia is especially beautiful. " Other music reviewers have speculated that the challenging coloratura demands of the title role have caused many opera companies to shy away from a work that requires a highly gifted coloratura soprano. Indeed, the title character dominates the action throughout the opera with full-scale solo scenes in each of the three acts. That being said, recent productions of the opera include Bergamo (1997), at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa (1998, recording available), the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall (1999), and the Haydn Orchester von Bozen und Trient (2007, recording available).
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 11 February 1841|
(Conductor: - )
|Carlo, a Duke||baritone||Filippo Valentini|
|Adelia, the Duke's daughter||soprano||Giuseppina Strepponi|
|Oliviero, a commoner in love with Adelia||tenor||Lorenzo Salvi|
|Arnoldo, the Duke's bodyguard||bass||Ignazio Marini|
|Odetta, Adelia's maidservant and friend||mezzo-soprano||Clementina Baroni|
|Uno Scudiero||bass||Luigi Fossi|
Adelia opens with the tale of Duke Carlo the Bold and his archers, returning victoriously from battle. Oliviero, a commoner, is caught sneaking out of the house of Arnoldo, the Duke’s bodyguard. He is accused of spoiling the honor of the Duke's daughter Adelia and the meddling crowd pronounces the ill-fate in store for the couple. Adina hopes to persuade her father otherwise, but Arnaldo denounces Oliviero to the Duke, who anyway had “other plans” for Adelia. Oliviero is sentenced to death by the Duke for violating women -- of lower station!-- as the law of the land says that any noble who became romantically involved with a commoner would be executed.
Arnoldo wisely tells the Duke that killing Oliviero will not restore the family honor, so the Duke decideds to make Oliviero a Count and allow the two to marry with the intent of beheading the groom after the wedding once his daughter's honor has been restored. Later, Oliviero interupts the wedding preperations by informing Adelia of a suspicious scaffold being erected just outside. The couple dreams of happy love but a letter reveals the Duke’s true plans. Adelia decides to not marry her love in order to save him from death but her father in turn threatens his own daughter with death if she does not restore the family honor by marrying Oliviero. However, Arnoldo can’t go through with slaying his daughter and breaks down in tears. Emotionally manipulated Adelia agrees to marry Oliviero.
Meanwhile, Oliviero begins to doubt the bride’s feelings since she has been acting strangely. He realizes that the threat of the scaffold must be giving her a nervous breakdown. However, the Duke has a sudden and wholly unmotivated change of heart, sparing Oliviero, ennobling Arnoldo (to legitimize the match), and finds a buyer for a like-new, never-used scaffold. Adelia weeps for joy.