Donizetti’s all but forgotten opera was written in 1834 to a libretto by Felice Romani. It’s based on the legend of Rosamund Clifford (The Fair Rosamund) Henry II’s mistress who died around 1176 under uncertain circumstances. It was first performed in Florence and again in Naples in 1845. Then it vanished. It was rediscovered in 1975 by Patric Schmid, the co-founder of Opera Rara. Nineteen years later the company recorded it with an outstanding cast (see below). The opera is a gem from start to end.

Donizetti wrote about 70 operas, many of them like this one, deserve regular performances. Opera companies desperate for something new either screw up the staging of standard repertory works or commission new operas by composers who don’t seem to be able to provide music that the public wants to hear.

Briefly, the story of Rosmonda D’Inghilterra depicts the romance that Henry II had with the title character. He wants to make his mistress Queen which necessitates discarding the incumbent Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine – Leonora in the opera.  Rosmonda ends up stabbed to death by Leonora, though in the Legend she’s poisoned. The duet below (Act 2 scene 1) shows why opera is such a powerful art form and why Donizetti is one of its greatest masters. It’s 15 minutes long, but they are among the fastest 15 minutes in opera. It’s in  three parts. First Leonora (Nelly Miricioiu)  reminds the King (Bruce Ford) how she helped him gain the throne. Then she tries to rekindle his love. This section is about as beautiful as opera gets. Finally, as Henry continues to reject his wife, the duet ends in mutual recrimination. Rosmonda d’Inghilterra Act 2 scene 1 duet

The opera requires two prima donnas. The other one is Renee Fleming; she plays the title role and is in splendid voice. The entire opera is written to the level of the above duet compounding the mystery of its neglect. Highly recommended. Amazon has it.

Rosmonda Clifford – Renee Fleming
Leonora di Guienna – Nelly Miricioiu
Enrico II – Bruce Ford
Clifford – Alastair Miles
Arturo – Diana Montague
Conductor – David Parry
Orchestra – Philharmonia Orchestra
Chorus – Geoffrey Mitchell Choir