Donizetti considered Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal (1843), his final completed opera written for the Paris Opéra, to be his masterpiece. In spite of its relative obscurity, on the basis of this recording, one is inclined to agree with him. The opera has several attributes that in the past have proved to be obstacles to its popularity. The first is its length – it's in five substantial acts and lasts three hours, but that's not so onerous for contemporary audiences accustomed to Wagner and Strauss. Besides, the composer created an abbreviated version for Viennese audiences, who at that time wanted to be out of the theater by 10 p.m., and that version could be used if necessary. The extravagant scenic and musical demands (at the premiere, there were 500 people on-stage at one point) put the opera outside the capability of all but the largest companies. A third difficulty for early audiences was the relentlessly dark subject matter; besides the many personal tragedies that make up the plot, the opera is ultimately a national tragedy as well – at the finale, Portugal has been lost to Spain, whose ships are seen approaching over the horizon as the curtain falls. Donizetti's music is appropriately somber, and at times, chilling. For modern audiences, whose sensibilities can accommodate Wozzeck or Elektra, the sadness and brutality of Dom Sébastien shouldn't be a deterrent to its viability.