Imelda de' Lambertazzi

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Imelda de' Lambertazzi is a melodramma tragico, or tragic opera, in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti from a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola, based on historical events of 1274 in Bologna described by Cherubino Ghirardacci in his Della Historia di Bologna (1605), and Count Gasparo Bombaci in his Historia de i fatti d'Antonio Lambertacci nobile, e potente cittadin Bolognese descritta da Gasparo Bombaci (1632), and also based on the 5-act tragedy Imelda (Naples, 1825) by the playwright Gabriele Sperduti. The opera received its first performance on 5 September 1830, at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, starring soprano Antonietta Galzerani, baritone Antonio Tamburini as Bonifacio Geremei, and tenor Berardo Winter as Lamberto.

Performance History[edit]

19th Century[edit]

Some of the criticism of the 1830 Naples première was variously perplexed, middling, or dismissive. Not because of the opera's reception with the public, Imelda was initially only able to receive two performances because the Naples theaters had to close September 10 for the novena in preparation for the feast of San Gennaro. The critic for the Milanese journal Il Censore Universale dei Teatri (Luigi Prividali, editor), however, was distinctly enthusiastic:

"The outcome of the first evening did not correspond to the expectation of those who appreciate the ability of this composer, and even more of those who had earlier had the opportunity of examining his composition, recognized as a most diligent work. Whether it was insufficiently rehearsed, or whether the singers had not sufficiently penetrated its spirit, the fact is that its execution did not have the desired effect. The talent of Tamburini nevertheless succeeded in making itself apparent everywhere in his part, and especially in his aria, when most clamorous and unanimous applause called him to the stage. The valiant Winter, too, demonstrated his fine energy, showing that he was in command of his part, and deservedly causing him to be applauded. But the other artists did not equal the aplomb of these two valiant performers, and as a result the Public remained suspended on its judgement. At the second performance, however, new merits began to be recognized in the music, and the execution as a whole was less uncertain; Tamburini’s reception increased to enthusiasm; the applause for Winter also became more vigorous; and the prima donna also reaped her fair share of approval. All now agree that the opera is beautiful, filled with learning and taste, and the finale of the first act signally proclaims itself the composition of a master. Which gives us reason to anticipate that the success of Imelda in successive performances will be ever more clamorous, as always happens with more studied works."

Though the opera was not a pointed success, subsequently some very important singers chose to sing it. After the 1830 première, it was revived in April 1831 again at the Teatro San Carlo for four performances with Luigia Boccabadati replacing Galzerani as Imelda, and Tamburini reprising Bonifacio. Boccabadati had created the role of Amelia in Donizetti's Il castello di Kenilworth in 1829 with Adelaide Tosi and Giovanni David, and a month after her performances as Imelda, starred in the première of Francesca di Foix, again with Tamburini.

Imelda de' Lambertazzi had only a few other performances in the 19th C.: twice in Barcelona (1840) with the noted Mercadante baritone Pietro Balzar (1814-1847) singing Bonifacio at the age of 26. Balzar was to create Foscari in Il Bravo, Gusmano in La solitaria delle Asturie, and Orazio in Mercadante's masterpiece Orazi e Curiazi. Two other productions of Imelda followed—one in La Corogne, Spain (1843), and in Senigallia, Italy (1856), this last with the prominent baritone Leone Giraldoni---creator of Simon Boccanegra, Renato in Verdi's Ballo, and the title role in Il duca d'Alba (1882)---as Bonifacio, and Antonio Giuglini as Lamberto, a year before the start of his brilliant London career. Charles Lumley said this of Giuglini's Edgardo in London:

"About his singing there could be no possible difference of opinion. Since the days of Rubini such a remarkable combination of lovely voice with "school" and expression had not been known. The famous "maledizione" (which had sufficed to make the fortune of a tenore robusto like Fraschini), being delivered with profound emotion, took the audience by storm."

There is a transcription at Teatro La Fenice recording the appearance of the opera, but unfortunately nothing is recorded about the dates, artists involved, or number of performances of this phantom Venice production.

Modern Performances[edit]

There exist only two 'performances' of the work, one a recording, the other a recorded concert. Nuova Era Records issued the first recording, recorded on Feb. 15-19, 1989 in Lugano, Switzerland. Marc Andreae conducted the Orchestra & Coro della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana. Floriana Sovila is Imelda, Andrea Martin sings Bonifacio, Diego D'Auria is Lamberto, Fausto Tenzi is Orlando, and Gastone Sarti is Ubaldo.

A concert performance was given on 10 March 2007 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, conducted by Mark Elder, which was recorded by Opera Rara, with Nicole Cabell/Imelda, James Westman/Bonifacio, Massimo Giordano/Lamberto, Frank Lopardo/Orlando, and Brindley Sherratt/Ubaldo.

There has been no staged production in modern times as of December, 2016. It's hard to imagine an audience today, presented with an inspired production with great singing, failing to respond to a historical story such as described by President John Adams:

"A catastrophe so tragical could not be recited on a stage without affecting in the most sensible manner the most unfeeling audience."

Donizetti's pre-Anna Bolena, ruggedly youthful, intensely Italian masterpiece still awaits the appreciation it deserves. A score that boasts the powerful Imelda-Lamberto duetto, a baritone scena of exquisite lyricism, a starkly innovative finale and reversal of tenor/baritone roles deserves to be realized on stage in a production worthy of its merits. So the celebrated Anna Bolena, then, must now share together with Imelda de' Lambertazzi the honor of heralding the composer's fullest maturity, after a decade of successful experimentation and compositional advances.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 5 September 1830
(Conductor: Gaetano Donizetti)
Imelda soprano Antonietta Galzerani
Bonifacio Geremei baritone Antonio Tamburini
Lamberto tenor Berardo Winter
Orlando Lambertazzi tenor Giovanni Basadonna
Ugo bass Michele Benedetti
Ubaldo bass Gennaro Ambrosini
Customers, followers of Lambertazzi, friends of Gieremei, soldiers, people

The Singers[edit]

Antonietta Galzerani was the daughter of the prominent Italian ballet choreographer Giovanni Galzerani (c 1789-after 1853), who composed ballets for many of the most prominent theaters of Italy, including Teatro La Fenice and the Teatro Communale di Bologna. Two months before the opera's opening she had made her successful operatic debut in La straniera at the San Carlo. Galzerani had a short career. During the 1830 rehearsals, Donizetti wrote to Mayr, “La Galzerani…(be it said in confidence) is a fire of straw---she grows more feeble from one evening to the next. Still, I shall have her in Imelda, and I shall work my hardest.” While not a success in the large operatic capitals, she did succeed in the fall of 1838 in Jesi, singing Lucia, Bellini’s Beatrice, and Ines de Castro by Persiani. Galzerani also had seasons at La Scala and the Teatro Apollo in Rome, where she sang Bellini’s Romeo and Alaide, and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Antonio Tamburini was born the son of Pasquale Tamburini, a carpenter cum horn player and professor of music in Faenza, Italy, on March 28, 1800. He first sang in church choirs and occasionally opera choruses in and around Faenza, than at eighteen began appearing as a soloist in local minor opera seasons. He joined a troupe of artists in Bologna, and with these made his débût at eighteen in the town of Cento in La Contessa di Colle Erboso by Pietro Generale. His career was a series of ever more rewarding engagements and further studies, culminating spectacularly in London and Paris, cementing his reputation as one of the very greatest baritones of the century. He was a member of the legendary 'Puritani Quartet'. At the time of Imelda de' Lambertazzi, Tamburini's star was rapidly ascending to the very heights, as driven by his acclaimed portrayals of Ernesto and Valdeburgo in the primas of Il pirata (1827) and La straniera (1829), respectively. His favorite role was said to be Dandini in La Cenerentola. Tamburini died in Nice, 8 November 1876.

Berardo Winter (dates unknown) was of German extraction but Italian training. He created five roles for Donizetti, including Warney in Il castello di Kenilworth (1829). Warney is, like Lamberto, a non-romantic, dramatic tenor part. He retired from the lyric stage after losing his entire family in a cholera epidemic, becoming a Dominican friar, Father Calvari-Winter. The tenor attended most solicitously to his dear friend Luigi Lablache during that singer’s final illness in Naples (1858), and administered the last rites.

Giovanni Basadona was born in Naples in 1806 and studied with the Bergamasc tenor Andrea Nozarri. He debuted in 1828 and was the most famous interpreter of Rossini's Otello. He helped with the 19th century transition of vocalism to that of the modern tenor, along with Lorenzo Bonfigli and Domenico Donizelli. He also created for Donizetti the roles of Crispo in Fausta, Rodrigo in Sancia di Castiglia, and, in a career climax, Roberto Devereux. He died sometime after 1851.

Michele Benedetti was a distinguished bass at Naples, admired for a large and deep bass voice that was much-appreciated in leading Rossini parts. He created the imposing title rôle in Rossini's Mosè in Egitto, helping to transform the bass to a leading status in serious operas. Benedetti is enigmatically listed as the character Ugo, who never appears on stage. In the libretto (act 2 sc. 1) Ugo is mentioned as a Ghibelline plant in the Guelph camp that betrays Bonifacio through a letter. Perhaps there was once a small recitativo scene with Ugo that was cut or lost from the score (as we have it today) that would explain this cast listing. Born in Loreto, 1778, nothing is known of Benedetti's later life or the circumstances of his death.

Gennaro Ambrosini created the role of Antonio in the premiere of Donizetti’s I pazzi per progetto, Feb. 7, 1830, at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples, along with Luigi Lablache and Luigia Boccabadati-Gazzuoli.


"Imelda e Bonifacio": the death of Bonifacio in Imelda's arms, by Giovanni Pagliarini (1809-1878)

(The plot shares elements with the Romeo and Juliet theme.)

Time: 1274
Place: Bologna[1]

ACT 1---Piazza outside the house of the Lambertazzi. A town crier affixes a poster on which is written: "The truce is over. Ghibellines, to arms." The people of Bologna call for an end to the fighting between the Lambertazzi and Geremei families. Orlando Lambertazzi, Praetor of Bologna, and patriarch of the family, chides the people of Bologna for cowardice, but his son Lamberto Lambertazzi insists on war. His sister Imelda Lambertazzi (aligned to the Ghibellines) loves Bonifacio, heir of the Geremei (who support the Guelphs). Orlando, Lamberto, and Ubaldo rally everyone to arms, Ah! s'oda lo squillo.

---Alone in her room, Imelda muses on her hopeless love in an aria, Amarti, e nel martoro. Then Bonifacio meets her disguised as a soldier messenger, and vainly asks the girl in a duetto to run away with her, Non sai qual periglio. Imelda unable to dishonor herself, they part resigned to death, Restati pur...m'udrai spento. Bonifacio, solus, resolves to work for an accord, then exits. Orlando tries to convince his son to consider peace, but Lamberto will have none of it. Orlando asks him to at least hear what Bonificio has to offer.

---A hall in the Lambertazzi house. The Ghibellini are hot for war. Bonifacio proclaims, "Let the cry of peace resound." When Bonifacio proposes harmony between the families---to be sealed by their marriage---he is met with the ire of Lamberto and his father. Imelda pleads for peace for the people, A recarti delle meste genetrice. The act ends with Lamberto casting his glove down to Bonifacio, who accepts, Vanne, m'attendi al campo, and a raucous call to war.

ACT 2---The apartment as in Act One. In a duet---one of the expressive peaks of the score---Lamberto, outraged by his sister's love for the enemy Bonifacio, reminds her that Bonifacio's father Rolandin starved their own mother to death in prison, Di Bonifacio il padre. But Imelda has already forgiven the Geremei because Lamberto has killed Bonifacio's younger brother. This is one of the great bel canto soprano-tenor duettos, gaining powerful dramatic impetus from the innovative brother-sister dynamic of Donizetti's dramaturgy.

---A wood. The camp of the Geremei. Night is falling. Bonifacio laments his fate in a superb double-aria scena with male chorus, Imelda a me volgea and Imelda! m'attendi! Bellini must have similarly understood the quality of Tamburini's voice, as Donizetti's music for Bonifacio shares the suavity of Riccardo's aria di sortita in I puritani.

---At night in the Lambertazzi garden---observed by Lamberto---the lovers have a desperate farewell duetto, Deh! cedi a chi t'adora! Bonifacio is fatally stabbed offstage with a poisoned dagger by Lamberto. He drags Imelda onstage, who pleads for forgiveness, but is rejected by father and brother. Having sucked the poison from Bonifacio's wound in a desperate attempt to save her lover's life, Imelda dies at her father's feet with a devastating and simple arioso, Padre! son rea, lo vedo. At the very end, only the people of Bologna, for whom she sought peace, show Imelda de' Lambertazzi any mercy and empathy:

-Tutti: Qual gel mi piomba al cor! Oh giorno di terror! (Quadro. Si cala il sipario.)

[Alternative Ending: Donizetti wrote an aria-cabaletta finale for four performances in Naples, April, 1831. This was at the request of the prima donna, Luigia Boccabadati-Gazzuoli (1800-1850), who surely wanted a display piece instead of the psychologically apposite and darkly veristic ending Donizetti intended. Surprisingly, the aria, M'odi almen, te ne scongiuro, is an adaption of Percy's exquisite Vivi tu from the wildly successful Anna Bolena of 1830. While very beautiful, this finale should, of course, always be eschewed for the original ending and relegated to Donizetti concerts. The composer's original conclusion to Imelda is empirical proof---concerning Donizetti and Verdi---as to who was the innovative master to whom.]

Literary and Historical Sources[edit]

Gabriele Sperduti and Adolphus Koeppen[edit]

The end of V. ii. from Imelda by Gabriele Sperduti, which premiered in Naples, 1825

Donizetti and Tottola changed Gabriele Sperduti’s original ending to his five-act tragedy Imelda (Naples, 1825) to express a more violent Romanticism. As Phèdre had her Oenone, Imelda’s confidante Stefania---a character excised from the opera---delivers the final speech at the end of the play, describing to Imelda's father Orlando the death scene between the lovers, and how they died in each other’s arms:

STEFANIA: Imelda dal dolor vinta tutta s'abbandona sullo spirante Bonifacio. Tardi a savarla giungemmo. Entrambi io vidi al suol ristretti fralle braccia…

Sperduti sounds a note of tenderness by giving Orlando the grief of a father’s heart: “Orlando si abbandona muto nel suo cordoglio sul cadavere della figlia. Cala la tenda. Fine della Tragedia.” Contrast this with Tottola, who creates a starker, more Gothic horror by depicting onstage the cruelty of Imelda’s brother, while denying the lovers’ final embrace, and even empathy from Orlando, who cruelly spurns Imelda---however ambivalently we may hope he does so. This is a finale that looks forward to those of Marino Faliero, Maria di Rohan, and still further ahead to the abrupt and violent endings of verismo opera.

History records the horrendous aftermath of the lovers' catastrophe, events in starkest contrast to the conciliatory tone expressed by Shakespeare's Lords Montague and Capulet on the last page of that play. Indeed, Donizetti had enough further material to plot a French grand opéra, as seen in Adolphus Koeppen's history, The World in the Middle Ages (1854):

"The factions of the Guelfs and Ghibelines proved the ruin of the prosperity and independence of Bologna. Ambitious and rival families sided under either banner. A private crime of the proud Lambertazzi, the head of the Ghibeline party, brought on the most frightful disasters. The offended Geremei, the chief family of the Guelfs, drove the former, at the sword's point, out of the city, in 1274, with fifteen thousand of their partisans and defendants. Imelda de' Lambertazzi loved the young Boniface Geremei, whose family had long been separated by the most inveterate enmity from her own. During a secret interview, the lovers were surprised by the Lambertazzi, the brothers of the young lady. Imelda escaped, but the lover was stabbed to the heart by the poisoned daggers of the Lambertazzi. In her despair, Imelda returned; she found his body still warm, and a faint hope suggested the remedy of sucking the venom from his wounds. But it only communicated itself to her veins; and the two unhappy lovers were found by her attendants stretched lifeless by each other's side. So cruel an outrage wrought the Geremei to madness: they formed an alliance with the democratic party in the city, and with some neighboring republics: the Lambertazzi took the same measures among the nobility, and after the most frightful battle in the streets of Bologna of forty days' duration, wherein palaces and towers were stormed, and part of the city destroyed, all the Ghibellini were driven out, their houses razed, and their estates confiscated."

Tottola and Shakespeare[edit]

While reminding us of Romeo and Juliet, Imelda de' Lambertazzi isn't really a reworking of this story. It shouldn't be viewed through a Shakespearean lens of expectations. We shouldn't look for balconies, love potions or a sleeping girl in a tomb in the libretto, but understand Tottola's Imelda and Bonifacio as a great tragic couple of Italian history in their own right, a history which unfortunately contains many examples of private people ground down by political strife. There's a certain quality in the bluntness of the story, the spare use of fioritura and heavy use of recitative, the frequent unbroken flow of scenes, the darker proto-modern lack of 'redemption', that ever so faintly points far ahead to verismo, a bit more Cavalleria than Capuleti.

Gasparo Bombaci[edit]

Title Page to Historia de i fatti d'Antonio Lambertacci (1632) by Gasparo Bombaci (1607-1676)

Gasparo Bombaci---in his Historia de i fatti d'Antonio Lambertacci nobile, e potente cittadin Bolognese descritta da Gasparo Bombaci (1632)---evokes the tragedy of Imelda and Bonifacio as a symbol of the internecine chaos of Italy in the 13th century. Here he describes the lovers' joy at meeting for their sole rendezvous:

"La concordia de’voleri, alla quale niente è difficile, agevolò in breve la via, ne lo ritardò la pavra d’esporsi al pericolo di mille accidenti, ò perche in casi tali ogn’uno crede essere de i privilegiati della fortuna, ò perche si stima più lo sfogamento della veheméte passione, e par troppo gran viltà l’aver manco ardire d’una femina. Al tempo, & hora determinata, con la maggior secretezza possibile, fù introdotto Bonifatio nella camera d’Imelda. La contentezza, e la gioia, che sentirono, si può più tosto imaginare, che descrivere. Dirò solo, che non avrebbero commutato lo stato d’allhora presente, in qual ti voglia felicità fù mai conceduta nel mondo." (p 47)

Bombaci was an Italian count and is the most important early modern historian of Bologna. He was born in 1607, and died in 1676.

John Adams and Cherubino Ghirardacci[edit]

Della Historia di Bologna (1605) by the Bolognese historian Cherubino Ghirardacci (1519-1598)

Cherubino Ghirardacci (Bologna 1519-12 December 1598) entered the Augustinian Convent of San Giacomo Maggiore of Bologna in 1532. After studies in Rome and Siena, he was ordained a priest in 1543 and returned to Bologna in 1548. His three-volume Della Historia di Bolgona (1605) is the crucial history of that city. President John Adams read deeply of Italian history, thereby informing his own political philosophy. The story of Imelda and Bonifacio certainly made an impression on the second president of America, who wrote voluminously about Italian history and politics (The Works of John Adams, Vol 5, 316. Boston, 1851), and recorded his thoughts on the following passage from Cherubino Ghirardacci's Della Historia di Bologna:

---"There were in Bologna two most noble families, the Gieremei and the Lambertazzi, between whom, not only the party prejudices of Guelphs and Ghibellines, but a rivalry for power and preeminence in the state, had long subsisted; but neither party animosities nor family jealousies were able to prevent Imelda, a daughter of Orlando Lambertazzi, a most beautiful young lady, from entertaining a partiality for Boniface, a son of Gieremia de Gieremei, a very handsome young man, who was desperately in love with her. This mutual passion thus increasing in their hearts from day to day, the two lovers at last found an opportunity to meet. The lady's brothers being engaged in some amusement at the house of the Caccianemici, having information of this interview, went to their sister's chamber, and finding Boniface there, fell upon him with poisoned weapons, and in an instant pierced his breast and his heart, their miserable sister flying in despair from their fury. Having committed the murder, they concealed the body in a sink, which ran under some apartment in the house, and fled from the city. The murderers having departed, Imelda, full of apprehensions and terrible presages of what she should discover, ventured to return to her chamber, and seeing upon the floor a rivulet of blood, she followed its direction, and opening the place where her lover lay she threw herself on the delicate body, still warm and bleeding, and distracted with tenderness and grief, applied her lips to his wounds, and drew in the poison with his blood; and whilst sorrowfully lamenting the loss of her lover, the poison spread over her whole frame to her heart, and Imelda fell dead in his arms."

'A catastrophe so tragical could not be recited on a stage without affecting in the most sensible manner the most unfeeling audience. The discovery of it to the public in Bologna could not, one would think, but melt the most obdurate heart of faction, and soften the savage monster to humanity; but the effect of it was so contrary to this, that it wrought up the hatred between the two factions to a mortal contagion, which increased and spread till it ruined and enslaved the republic.'---John Adams, U.S. president


Year Cast:
Imelda, Lamberto,
Orlando Lambertazzi,
Opera House and Orchestra
1989 Floriana Sovilla,
Diego D' Auria,
Fausto Tenzi,
Andrea Martin
Marc Andreae,
Italian Switzerland Radio/TV Orchestra
(Recorded in Lugano, 15–19 February)
Audio CD: Nuova Era
Cat: 6778/6779
2007 Nicole Cabell,
Massimo Giordano,
Frank Lopardo,
James Westman
Mark Elder,
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Audio CD: Opera Rara
Cat: ORC 36


Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller: Les Fleurs d'Italie, 12 Melodies Gracieuses de Donizetti: No. 7. Tamburini's Air--Imelda de'Lambertazzi for piano solo. (Nos. 1-4, 6, and 12 are based on Torquato Tasso; 5 and 8 on Gianni di Calais; 9 on Il Furioso; 10 and 11 on Olivo e Pasquale.) Burgmüller was a prominent German composer and pianist in Paris, and wrote the ballet La Péri (1843) for Carlotta Grisi, which was a huge success and follow up to the 1841 ballet Giselle. Choreographer Jean Coralli arranged music from Burgmüller's Souvenir de Ratisbonne, ma ville natale: grande valse brillante, Op. 67, for piano solo (4 Hands), for the well-known Pas des paysans in act 1 of Adam's Giselle. Donizetti, Burgmüller, and Adam were all good friends in Paris. Burgmüller’s younger brother Norbert Burgmüller (1810-1836), the composer of a piano concerto in F-sharp minor, Op. 1, at age 19, was admired by the early Romantics, and his death by drowning at Aachen was compared in tragic significance to Schubert’s by Robert Schumann. Friedrich Burgmüller was born in Regensburg (Ratisbonne) 4 December 1806, and died in Paris 13 February 1874.



  1. ^ Osborne 1994, p. 192
  2. ^ Source for recording information: Recording(s) of Imelda de' Lambertazzi on

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