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

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

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):