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  • Writer's pictureJónathan Cebreros

The Story of 'Il Campanello'

Donizetti's Il Campanello di Notte (The Night Bell) was so successful that its premiere was revived every year for a whole decade after it took place in 1836 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples. Five days after its world premiere, it was performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Nowadays, the average opera aficionado has likely never heard of Campanello as it is rarely performed.

On the other hand, the extenuating personal and socio-economic circumstances under which this one-act farce was composed are quite interesting. Campanello was conceived during a highly creative and successful decade for Donizetti, along with masterworks such as Anna Bolena (1830), L'Elisir d'amore (1832), Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) and Roberto Devereux (1837). During a cholera epidemic season, and in sudden efforts to try and save a Neapolitan impresario and his company from ruin, Donizetti bowed to complete Campanello (including its libretto in efforts to reduce costs) within a week. It is said that the work was completed, all parts learned, opera premiered and company saved all within a record time of only 9 days. Within the same year, Donizetti's parents died and the stillbirth of a daughter also took place.

The following year - given the censorship prevalent in Italy and the possibility of better remuneration for his work - Donizetti decided to leave Naples and accepted an offer from the Opéra de Paris, as such becoming the first Italian commissioned to compose grand opéra. These factors, along with the recent death of Bellini, as well as Rossini's retirement from grand scale opera writing, also likely contributed to Donizetti's roaring success as a composer.

The opera's libretto is based after Mathieu-Barthélemy Troin Brunswick and Victor Lhérie’s vaudeville, La sonnette de nuit. The opera takes place at the lavish Pistacchio residence in Naples and the story begins during the wedding reception of the recent newlyweds; Don Annibale Pistacchio, an older and accomplished pharmacist, and Serafina, a young girl. After guests are directed into a separate room where they continue to dance and consume copious amounts of alcohol, Don Annibale and Madama Rosa, Serafina's widowed mother, discuss the logistics of the upcoming days as Don Annibale needs to depart to Rome early the next morning.

To Don Annibale's misfortune, his worst nightmare has just arrived to take part in the celebrations: Enrico, Serafina's ex-boyfriend. Enrico, who everyone is very fond of, immediately becomes the life of the party and even makes the crowd go crazy by throwing fireworks on the dance floor. At this point, Serafina and Enrico have their little moment in which Enrico questions Serafina's decision to marry without Enrico's consent, to which she replies, reminding him of his infidelity with two other women. Enrico, severely insulted by this statement, claims her accusations are false and corrects Serafina by reiterating that he was unfaithful with three, not two other women. Needless to say, Enrico's attempts to get Serafina's love back are futile.

Right at the point in which Enrico is kneeling and begging at Serafina's feet, Don Annibale enters the room and loses it. Everyone, including Madama Rosa, Spiridione, Don Annibale's butler - and the rest of the guests gather around . At this point, Enrico denies that he was intentionally kneeling, but rather cleverly improvises and makes everyone believe he was rehearsing a scene he had prepared to perform for the newlyweds. This improvised scene marks the beginning of Enrico's numerous and hilarious attempts to keep Don Annibale busy and prevent the consummation of his marriage with Serafina. Coincidentally, the plot of this scene mirrors the complicated love triangle among the protagonists. After the end of the scene, Enrico proposes a toast which extends the party later into the night.

Just as the toast is over, Don Annibale, who has been clearly anxious to get to his nuptial chamber, calls it a night and everyone leaves. However, there is a little inconvenience: due to local Neapolitan regulations, pharmacists are required to personally dispense any overnight medications or face fines and even imprisonment. Although Spiridione offers to make an exception and cover for him, Don Annibale, afraid of the legal implications, is determined to follow the law even on his wedding night, and answer the ring of the nightly bell (hence the name of the opera) that overnight patients will use to call for service. Enrico, taking advantage of the local regulations, finds creative ways to disguise himself and impersonate characters with fake symptoms throughout the night. We will not enter into much detail as we'd like to give you the chance to personally witness Enrico's versatility and histrionic skills which we're sure you'll thoroughly enjoy. During these opportunities to disguise himself and enter the residence, Enrico also manages to physically obstruct Don Annibale's entrance into the nuptial chamber and leaves an anonymous threatening note for him.

Oblivious to the situation, Don Annibale panics and calls for Spiridione in the middle of the night, who points out the obvious and devices a plan to capture Enrico. Because everyone hates spoilers, we'll also leave this part of the story out to give our readers a chance to find out what the plan is and how this farce ends. Needless to say, it is a tremendously fun opera and worth seeing, as it is seldom performed.


Elson, Louis Charles. Modern Music and Musicians: Famous Compositions for the Piano. Vol. 3. New York: U Society, 1912. 269. Web. Opera Review; Comic Rarities By a Young Donizetti

Anthony Tommasini -

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