★★★★★

Donizetti was one of the most prolific opera composers of all time, an appealingly personable fellow (if you read the letters), and an extraordinary professional capable of turning out a work in just a few weeks. That very facility though has led to a general dismissal of his music as too easy, rushed, derivative, or worse. Les Martyrsdisproves all of these.

A late work (1840), this grandest of his French grand operas was written simultaneously with the slighter, yet inexplicably more popular La Fille du Régiment, but the two works couldn’t be more different – one a trivially sucrose French confection, the other a profound meditation on faith and duty. But while Daughter of the Regimentwent on to conquer the world, Les Martyrssank without a trace.

That latter statement isn’t entirely true. Les Martyrswas itself an expanded reworking of Poliuto, an opera Donizetti had written for Naples that fell foul of the censors and so never made it to the stage. Poliutohas been championed intermittently over the years (there’s a superb live version with Callas, Corelli and Bastianini) and Glyndebourne have just given its British premiere, but Les Martyrsis a horse of a different...