Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

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):