Gaetano Donizetti’s Rita dates from between 1839 and 1841 at a time when the composer was in Paris. Still unperformed at the time of his death in 1848, Rita finally premiered in May 1860 at the Opéra-Comique.It remained relatively obscure, but has been rediscovered and is increasingly performed, with several new productions in 2020 alone, including this one in a new arrangement for chamber ensemble by music director Marco Iannelli.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), a leading contributor to the bel canto opera style, was one of the first composers who channeled drama and emotion to the stage with music in a time when the singers’ part was considered key to conveying emotions instead. His one-act opera Rita,  posthumously premiered 160 years ago, was one such example,and may make the point again when locally-based Italian music director Marco Iannelli revives it in Hong Kong.

In Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1733 comic opera La Serva Padrona (“The Maid Made Mistress”), a maid sets her sights on her boss, and through a combination of flirtatious behavior and well-meant duplicity, convinces him that he has really loved her all along. The work is small and intimate with a deceptive simplicity that belies the sophistication of the music, allowing a fusion between comic theatre and comic opera.

While hardly a rarity, Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) doesn’t usually rank in popularity with the likes of Aida, La Bohème or Carmen. But after a performance such as that which acted as the curtain-raiser for the Macau International Music Festival, it can be hard to understand why not. Effortlessly enjoyable, the work also contains passages of aching beauty and contains more insights into human nature than its rom-com surface would let on.