Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé wins the 2017 Guildhall School Gold Medal

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has announced baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé as the winner of this year’s Gold Medal, the School’s most prestigious prize for outstanding soloists. The prize is awarded to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years and this year was the turn of the singers.

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

Glyndebourne Festival 2018 programme announced

The UK’s first professional production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer prize-winning opera Vanessa takes place at Glyndebourne Festival 2018. One of the great American operas, Vanessa was hailed as a triumph at its premiere in 1958 but quickly fell out of the repertoire and has only been staged intermittently since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Edita Gruberova as Donna Lucrezia Borgia [Photo by Wilfried Hösl courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]
27 Feb 2009

Lucrezia Borgia at Munich

Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, his 30th opera, is based on Victor Hugo’s play of the same name, and had its premiere at La Scala in 1833.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia

Don Alfonso: Franco Vassallo; Donna Lucrezia Borgia: Edita Gruberova; Gennaro: Vittorio Grigòlo; Maffio Orsini: Alice Coote; Jeppo Liverotto: Bruno Ribeiro; Don Aposto Gazella: Christian Rieger; Ascanio Petrucci: Christopher Magiera; Gubetta: Steven Humes; Oloferno Vitellozzo: Erik Årman; Rustighello: Emanuele D'Aguanno; Astolfo: Christian Van Horn. Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Musikalische Leitung: Bertrand de Billy. Regie: Christof Loy.

Above: Edita Gruberova as Donna Lucrezia Borgia

All photos by Wilfried Hösl courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

It features three main characters: Lucrezia Borgia herself, Gennaro the tragic hero (tenor) who, unbeknownst to all but Lucrezia, is her son , and Maffio Orsini, Gennaro’s very, very, close friend who—tellingly?—is sung by a contralto.

The opera features a particularly unbelievable story based on unlikely premises which steer the protagonists into artificially dramatic situations that bear the least possible resemblance to reality. As per usual with Italian opera of the time, a series of unfortunate events/conspiracies/oaths leaves the dramatis personae in life-and-death scenarios where one or more of them die only to turn out to have been the murderer’s daughter/son/lover. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, as slightly more sophisticated examples of the same idea, send their regards.

Of course operas like Lucrezia Borgia are not popular for the inane story linews that make the average MacGyver plot look new and sophisticated. Nor is the repetitive music, worthy of a third rate Sicilian Oompah band, the draw either. For one, every scene takes three times longer than necessary because everything has to be spelled and trice repeated with Donizetti unwilling or unable to express any emotion in music. He has but three modes: regular, powerful (loud), and ‘ominous’ (fast string tremolos): it’s like painting with just three colors. Schubert can put the world's emotion in one tiny song... Donizetti, working at the rate of Lucrezia, couldn't put four emotions into an opera the length of Parsifal. Being premiered just six years before Verdi’s Oberto, it’s no coincidence that the music of Lucrezia sounds like very early (and very bad) Verdi

The real draw is solely the achievement of the soprano in the title role for whom the opera’s  vocal high-wire act the opera is one massive vehicle. Everyone in the audience waits through the entire second act for the very last five minutes (taking Orsini’s “Il segreto per esse felice” in the passing) when Madamma Borgia has her gratuitous vocal coloratura moment where the singer—given sufficient ability—has the opportunity to burn off a display of fireworks that seems nearly superhuman. The inevitable roaring approval from voice fetishists  - usually from the second tier upward) -  make the impression of an old fashioned freak-show, albeit in a fancy setting, inevitable.

The Bavarian State Opera has Edita Gruberova for the title role, who is worshiped in the few towns—Munich, Vienna, Zurich— where she regularly performs. The primadonna assoluta is still a bel canto monster at almost 63. Although the soft hue of her voice is worn down a bit, exposing a touch of harshness, she still indulges in all the highest pianissimo notes she cares to, letting them swell to a piercing forte with ease.

rsys_27136_499d5d5e75f4d.pngEdita Gruberova (Lucrezia Borgia), Ensemble

The direction of Munich’s Lucrezia is by Christof Loy, who was named Director of the Year 2008 by the German magazine Opernwelt and is a frequent collaborator of Gruberova’s. His staging—or lack thereof—strips the opera of anything resembling a set. A raked floor and a bright white backdrop with neon-letters spelling out “Lucrezia Borgia” (Gennaro rips the “B” out, when he assaults the Borgia’s coat of arms: “Oh diamin! ORGIA!”) is all there is, apart from a few chairs. Why Loy makes Gruberova take her wig off again (she does so to great effect in his Munich Roberto Devereux) isn’t quite clear. Her three costumes could, with some generosity, be construed as the multiple personalities that live within Lucrezia. The audience booed—as is good tradition, but the minimalist approach struck as refreshingly uncluttered.

The chorus, Gennaro, and his five friends all run around in Pulp Fiction uniform: black suites and narrow black ties. Only the ruffians in Act II look as if they had been chased through the costume magazine with the mission to pick whichever corniest 1950s Verdi costume first caught their eye. The ill fitting tights in every garish color and bad wigs were probably a clever self-referential joke of the production team, but that joke not being shared with the viewer, it just looked dumb. Zestfully throwing plastic wine glasses about, only for them to bounce off the floor with a hollow thud, is an embarrassment worthy of high-school productions that I thought would never happen at the Munich Opera.

Pavol Breslik as Gennaro and Alice Coote as Maffio Orsini made the most of their duty to pass the time between Gruberova outbreaks. Their tender duet—two men acting like a loving couple, played by a man and a woman—was a dramatic highpoint. Franco Vassallo’s smooth bass mastered Don Alfonso’s part agreeably. Loy’s team consists of lighting designer Joachim Klein, Barbara Drosihn who is in charge of costumes, and Henrik Ahr, responsible for the set. Bertrand de Billy’s conducting didn’t go beyond supporting and cuing the singers, but then he had nothing to work with, musically.

Jens F. Laurson

[This review first appeared in Seen & Heard. It is reprinted with permission of the author.]

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):