From Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann to Meyerbeer’s L’Étoile du Nord , 19th-century audiences seemingly lapped up operas about the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. These often revolved around a curious myth where the ruler wanders abroad amongst the common folk disguised as a peasant, most often as a carpenter (hence Lorzing’s zimmermann). In the case of Donizetti’s Pietro il Grande, Kzar delle Russie o Il Falegname di Livonia (Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia or The Livonian Carpenter) things are a little different. In this case the carpenter is Peter’s brother-in-law, Carlo, separated from his family at birth and living in Livonia unaware that his long-lost sister is now the Tsarina. Peter is still in disguise, here as a passing Russian nobleman, roaming the land in search of his wife’s brother.

Donizetti

Pietro il Grande was Donizetti’s second full-length opera, composed when he was 22 years old, and given in December 1819 at the opening of the Carnival season at Venice’s Teatro San Samuele. An opera buffa with a decent though lengthy libretto, it was well-received enough to earn a handful...