Pietro il Grande Kzar delle Russie
An opera buffa in two acts with libretto by Gherardo Bevilacqua-Aldobrandini
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
First performance: Teatro San Samuele, Venice, 26 December 1819
Critical edition by Maria Chiara Bertieri / Fondazione Donizetti
Less than a year after his debut as a composer of opera, the 22-year-old Donizetti was once again commissioned by a Venice theatre (San Samuele) to produce a comedy to be performed during the 1820 carnival season. The author of the libretto was a nobleman from Ferrara with a passion for art and theatre, the Marquis Gherardo Bevilacqua Aldobrandini.
Scriptwriter, occasional librettist (he wrote the libretto for Adina for his friend Rossini in 1818) and later designer of classical monuments, Bevilacqua created the new text from an 1816 Italian translation of an 1805 comedy by Duval (Le Menuisier de Livonie) and a recent libretto written by Felice Romani for the composer Giovanni Pacini (Il Falegname di Livonia, presented at La Scala in Milan in April 1819).
The opera relates an anecdote from the life and travels of Tzar Peter the Great. Having arrived incognito at an inn in a Baltic region, the Tzar witnesses the arrogance and injustice perpetrated by a local magistrate on an honest carpenter.
In the end he not only rights the wrong by punishing the shameless magistrate and reasserting the principle that the law must treat everyone equally, but also realises that the humble carpenter is the lost brother of his wife.
The young Donizetti took this libretto and constructed a remarkable composition. Clear references to Rossini’s work can be recognised, but there are plenty of passages that display a decidedly personal style.
The modern version of this work is therefore interesting for several reasons: the scenic effectiveness and the wonderful music, the type of theatre it embodies (comedy based on historical figures), the new light cast on Donizetti’s early work, his interpretation of the prevailing Rossini patterns and the foreshadowing of a developing individual style.