Indiana Jones and the Missing Donizetti Songs

Indiana Jones Jr. is probably one of cinema’s most famous characters. Portrayed by actor Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones Jr. is a professor of archaeology who finds numerous famous mythological relics, such as the Sankara Stones, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy Grail.

While the Indiana Jones Jr. films are good adventure fun, it is time to meet a real Indiana Jones Jr. in the world of music. Let me introduce you to Roger Parker, Professor Emeritus of Music at King’s College London.

Gaetano Donizetti: “Quann ‘a lo bello mio”

Roger Parker

Roger Parker, Professor Emeritus of Music at King’s College London

Roger Parker

Parker retired from King’s in 2020, just as the world was spiraling into the global coronavirus pandemic. However, Parker had a special project in mind and turned his attention to Gaetano Donizetti, the fabulous Italian composer known for his almost 70 operas.

However, Parker wasn’t that interested in Donizetti’s operas but in the rather confused state of research regarding Donizetti’s solo songs. According to standard reference work, about 200 Donizetti songs were known to exist in various libraries, but many had not been seen or heard for centuries.

Gaetano Donizetti: L’amor mio (Lidia Marimpietri, soprano; Enrico Fabbro, piano)

Home Office

Gaetano Donizetti

Gaetano Donizetti

As Parker explained, “that catalogue was notorious for being full of mistakes and duplications. The location of a large number of songs was listed as unknown, and many of them were stated to be in private hands.”

Accessing the library databases at home, Parker became aware of a monastery in northwest Austria that held a large number of previously unknown Donizetti songs. That monastery had three volumes of Donizetti Canzonette containing around 50 songs, 15 of which were completely unknown.

Gaetano Donizetti: “Piu che non ama un angelo”


Indiana Jones now went to work and found out that the Donizetti collection had been in possession of a Countess Medici in Rome in the 19th century. We still don’t know why she gave the manuscripts to the monastery, but according to Parker, “this decision seemed rather surprising and unusual. Storing Donizetti’s songs in the monastery effectively meant burying them in an archive because no one had ever thought to look at their catalogue.”

Parker started to collaborate with scholars and musicologists from around Europe in search of unknown songs. A good amount of previously unknown material was found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Donizetti had moved to Paris in 1838, and many of his manuscripts ended up in the library but were badly miscatalogued.

Three Donizetti Songs

Scattered around the World

Manuscript of Donizetti

Donizetti’s manuscript

As Roger Parker explains, “Donizetti was very prolific and very fast at composing. He would often write songs for private performances and simply give them away, for instance, to people who were going to perform them at that time. This is how his manuscripts ended up being dispersed around the world.”

“Operas, unlike songs, are usually archived by music publishers and, therefore, there are certain mechanisms for finding them. There are only four libraries in the world that contain the majority of Donizetti’s opera manuscripts, but his songs are all over the place.”

Gaetano Donizetti: J’aime trop pour être heureux (Annette Betanski, soprano; Burton Fine, viola; Susan Miron, harp)

Emotion in a Brief Moment

Famous contemporaries of Donizetti, like Verdi and Bellini, only wrote a very small number of songs while Donizetti wrote roughly 200. Parker explains, “From looking at these songs, one can get an alternative view of the composer. Songs must make an impact quickly, and this corpus of work demonstrates that Donizetti was fully capable of capturing an emotion in a brief musical moment.”

Now that the missing Donizetti songs have been located and verified, it is left to the London-based recording company “Opera Rara” to commit these jewels to disk. Eight fantastic soloists will record a separate CD each in a project expecting to take the better part of four years.

Gaetano Donizetti: “Le crepuscule” (Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Jan Eyron, piano)

Opera Rara

Portrait of Gaetano Donizetti by Francesco Coghetti

Portrait of Gaetano Donizetti by Francesco Coghetti

The Donizetti songs can also be heard at Wigmore Hall in London over the next three years, and they will be published by the Italian publishing house Casa Ricordi. As many as 90 previously unknown songs will be heard for the first time in more than 200 years.

In his songs, Donizetti did sometimes cross over into operas, but they are in a different vein. “For the most part, the musical mood is usually less extravagant, as are the vocal demands.” Thanks to Indiana Jones Jr., I mean, Roger Parker, we are now able to get a much more complete picture of the intimate side of Donizetti’s song oeuvre.

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Learn more from the website of Opera Rara

Gaetano Donizetti: “Me voglio fa’ ‘na casa”

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