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Gaetano Donizetti (born Bergamo, 29 November 1797; died Bergamo, 8 April 1848)


Salvadore Cammarano


Drama Belisaiius (1820) by Eduard von Schenk, in Italian version (1826) by Luigi Marchioni.



First Performance: Venice (Teatro La Fenice), 4 February 1836)

First Performance in UK: London (), 1 April 1837.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 22 September 1846.



Belisario is a compactly plotted and dramatic piece, with faults of structure and pacing, but also a great deal of high quality dramatic music, not least Antonina's final mad scene.  It followed immediately after the undoubtedly great Lucia di Lammermoor, and had the same librettist.  The title role is an excellent one for a dramatic baritone.  In the early years it was very successful, receiving performances in most operatic centres including London (with a consequent tour to Scotland).  However it quickly faded from the repertoire after the composer's death.

In modern times it has received several revivals in Italy, and elsewhere.  In Britain, the only stagings have been two runs with student forces at the Guildhall in London in the 1970s.  Since then there have been concert performances by the Chelsea Opera Group and by Opera Rara.  It has not yet been revived outside London.


Main Characters

Giustiniano (Justinian), Emperor in the East (bass)

Belisario, general of the Byzantine army (baritone)

Antonina, his wife, in love with Eutropio (soprano)

Irene, their daughter (mezzo-soprano)

Alamiro, a prisoner of Belisario (tenor)

Eutropio, captain of the imperial guard (tenor)


Plot Summary

The opera takes place in Byzantium - modern Istanbul, and formerly Constantinople, during the period after the collapse of the Roman Empire, while the eastern empire survived.

Belisario has been victorious leading the Byzantine forces in battle against the Bulgars.  A crowd eagerly awaits his return to Byzantium, including his daughter Irene.  He arrives, accompanied by captive prisoners, including Alamiro, a young warrior for whom he has formed an admiration.  In his absence, Belisario's wife Antonina, now in love with Eutropio, has concocted a scheme to discredit him - she has been told that he was responsible for the death of their infant son Alessi many years ago.  She denounces him to the Emperor, and Belisario is put on trial.  During this process he admits to the murder of the baby, by means of exposure (a common enough practice in parts of the Ancient Greek world), but he claims that it had been prophesied that the boy would be responsible for the destruction of the Byzantine empire.  Unmoved by this, Justinian sentences him to death.

The sentence is at length commuted - but Belisario is blinded and sent into exile.  Alamiro is sympathetic towards him and leaves to rejoin his old campaign against Byzantium.   Irene decides to accompany her father in his exile.

After wandering for some time Belisario and Irene are exhausted.  Alamiro and his forces, on their way to attack Byzantium, meet up with them.  Irene at this point recognizes that Alamiro is in fact her long lost brother Alessi.  As a baby he had been found and raised in ignorance of his true identity.  Father and son are reunited.

At Justinian's camp, Antonina confesses that her account of Belisario killing their son had been a lie.  Irene now arrives with the news that Belisario has again become the leader of the Byzantine forces, now accompanied by his son.  Next Alessi himself brings news that Belisario has been mortally wounded.  The old man is carried in, but dies before he is able to forgive his wife for her falsehood.  Antonina, in her turn, full of remorse, goes mad and dies.

The Cast

 a prisoner of Belisario
 wife of Belisario
 supreme commander of the Imperial army
 Justinian, Emperor in the East
 daughter of Belisario and Antonina

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