Gaetano Donizetti's Les Martyrs began life as an Italian-language opera called Poliuto, dealing with the life of the martyred early Christian saint Polyeuctus, a Roman soldier whose head was sliced off after he converted to Christianity, disregarding the protests of his wife and children. Italian censors, backed by the Neapolitan king, forbade the performance of the work on the grounds that the sacred subject matter was unsuitable for opera. The outraged Donizetti took the work to more liberal Paris, where it underwent wholesale revision into a French grand opera; new text was added by the king of French dramatists, Eugène Scribe, and Donizetti supplied choruses and instrumental interludes to fill out the four-act structure. The original Italian version was later revived, and the work is more often performed in that version than in the hybrid French form. Recordings of Les Martyrs are not common, but Donizetti fans will be interested to discover the nimble ways in which he revised the work. The big new ensembles with multiple characters and chorus are quite effective, partly because they form a sharp contrast with the ravishing Donizetti melodies that are still in abundant supply. The performers, including Michael Spyres as Polyeucte and Joyce El-Khoury as his despairing wife, Pauline, are solid, and the whole is nicely held together by Mark Elder, leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The booklet, with a detailed investigation into the work and, among other things, a really delightful caricature of Donizetti, is a major attraction in itself. Strong recommendation for Donizetti fans.