Banned before it could even open in Naples in 1838, Donizetti’s Poliuto takes the tragic story of an early Christian martyr and opens it out – in music often described as some of the composer’s best – into a provocative exploration of love, jealousy, political oppression and religious extremism.
In an Armenia conquered by Rome, Christianity is now outlawed – punishable by death. So when Paolina, daughter of a Roman General, discovers her husband Poliuto’s secret conversion, it sends shockwaves through a marriage already at breaking point. Paolina loves Severo, the Roman Proconsul. But when Poliuto is condemned to die in the arena, she is so moved by his courage that she finds herself torn, forced to make a terrible, brutal decision.
At the height of his creative powers, fresh from the success of Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti sought out a broader musical canvass for his creativity: a story of individuals, but also of nations, ideas and ideologies. The result is a potent blend of grandeur and intimacy, sonic scope and human detail. Military marches and Christian hymns punctuate taut emotional confrontations, all culminating in a devastating finale.
Glyndebourne’s first ever staging of Poliuto (2015) is directed by Mariame Clément. A drama of the Ancient World is refracted through 20th-century conflicts – the Balkans, Mussolini’s Italy – in Julia Hansen’s stark, stylish designs, while historical questions become pointedly topical.
Famously once a vehicle for Maria Callas, Poliuto demands three extraordinary singers for its central love-triangle. This staging finds them in Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez (Paolina), American tenor Michael Fabiano (Poliuto) and Russian baritone Igor Golovatenko (Severo). Enrique Mazzola conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recorded live at Glyndebourne Opera House, Festival 2015.