The middle-period had its masterpieces, but the late works see the composer move in unexpected directions.

In the middle of September 1842, Gaetano Donizetti, then 44 years-old, was as usual en route, this time from Naples to Paris. Leaving Naples had brought on sad thoughts, in particular of his beloved wife Virginia who had died there some five years earlier. From Genoa he wrote to an old friend in his home town of Bergamo, seemingly too depressed to be much concerned about the dangers of a sea voyage: “I’m very sad… even though showered with recognition and applause… celebrated everywhere… It doesn’t matter! Nothing can fill up the gap. Yesterday I was forced to stay in Livorno for 24 hours because of bad weather. But what does the equinox matter to me? If God wants me, I’m ready.”

Increasingly disillusioned with theatrical life, in particular of the strain it was now costing him to keep in active service his considerable European reputation, the prospect of Paris, and then Vienna for the coming Spring season, did nothing to cheer him.

In this final period Donizetti can seem like an infernal composing machine

The mood of this letter...