Gaetano Donizetti´s Operas Influenced by his Neurobiological Illness ?

The Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti wrote phantastic operas, two of them are “Anna Bolena” and “Lucia di Lammermoor”. In these operas some of greatest scenes of psychosis can be found.

Some years ago the two investigators E. Peschel and R. Peschel wrote an article about his work, titled:

Donizetti and the music of mental derangement: Anna Bolena, Lucia di Lammermoor, and the composer’s neurobiological illness

Their argument is: As Donizetti died in a state of mental derangement due to neurosyphilis, possibly he was able to write the dramatic psychotic scenes, beacause he himself had lived those neurotic states. One of the main statements of the article is:

“One can hypothesize that the composer’s brain disease, which led to his psychosis and death, may have had an influence on his ability to create the powerful and unforgettable scenes of psychosis in his operas.”

I have my doubts about the reasonableness of this statement. Here is, why:

- The opera texts were not written by Donizetti, Lucia die Lammermoor was written by the very skilled librettist Salvadore Cammarone, who knew very well the taste of the Napolitane audience, and Ana Bolena was written by Felice Romani, a poet who was able”to portray the passions in the liveliest manner” , as Bellini had once said.

- It is a common error to think that an artist creates his works of art by a linear translation or interpretation of his own mental or psychic states. Art doesn’t arise in this way. The creative act emerges from a complex cognitive-mental-emotional mix, where something NEW is created.

Alternatively I propose another version of the mentioned central statement of the article:

“One can hypothesize that the special manifestations of the composer’s psychosis may have been influenced by his former artistic creations of the powerful and unforgettable scenes of psychosis in his operas”.

 

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