The catalogue of Gottschalk’s compositions, lost and extant, lists a total of thirty-one fantasies on themes from operas by Bellini, Flotow, Gounod, Méhul, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Thomas, Wagner, Weber—and Donizetti. Though it is known that Gottschalk wrote a fantasy on the finale of Lucrezia Borgia
, and variations on the aria ‘Spirto gentil’ (from La Favorita), the sole extant Donizetti arrangement is this, originally billed as a ‘grande fantaisie de concert’. After a lengthy declamatory maestoso opening, Gottschalk skips to Act 3 of the opera for his first theme (Alfonso’s aria ‘A tanto amor’). Some characteristically brilliant passagework in scintillating voyages to the top of the keyboard and back leads to a devilish repeated-note section derived from ‘Di già nella cappella’ (Act 3), thence to a treatment of the Act 1 soprano aria ‘Bei raggi lucenti’ and, later, a triplet figure based on Act 2’s ‘Giardani d’Alcazar’.
The La Favorita fantasy was given its first performance on 12 June 1859 in the tiny town of Basse-Terre on the southwest coast of the island of Guadaloupe. The piano must have been made of stern stuff to withstand the onslaught. The audience went wild. Just over a year later, Gottschalk made his debut as an opera conductor at the Teatro Principal in Matanzas, Cuba. The work? Donizetti’s Les Martyrs, followed two days later by Lucia di Lammermoor. There is a further (tenuous, though nonetheless interesting) link between Gottschalk and Donizetti. Long before Gottschalk toured with the thirteen-year-old Adelina Patti, her mother, the soprano Caterina Chiesa Barilli-Patti (d1870), had had a part written specially for her by the Italian composer.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2003