Lucrezia Borgia (opera)

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Lucrezia Borgia is a melodramatic opera in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after the play Lucrezia Borgia by Victor Hugo, in its turn after the legend of Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia Borgia was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan with Lelande and Pedrazzi. While not performed as regularly as Donizetti's more popular operas, Lucrezia's aria "Com'è bello", Orsino's Brindisi "Il segreto per esser felici", the tenor's "Di pescator ignobile", and the bass aria "Vieni, la mia vendetta!" are all very effective and famous melodic moments from the opera and have been performed and recorded frequently.

Performance history[edit]

Thérèse Tietjens as Lucrezia Borgia

19th century

The first London production was at Her Majesty's Theatre on 6 June 1839 with Giulia Grisi and Mario.[1] When the opera was staged in Paris (Théâtre des Italiens) in 1840, Victor Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions within the domain of French copyright law. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed.[1]

The first English-language production was in London on 30 December 1843. The English tenor Sims Reeves was a noted Gennaro. Lucrezia was first presented at New York's American Theatre on 11 May 1843 [1] and later at the Astor Opera House in 1847: with Giulia Grisi in 1854; and with Thérèse Tietjens and Brignoli in 1876. It was given at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, in 1882, and at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1904 with Enrico Caruso as Gennaro and Arturo Vigna conducting.

Tietjens, a particularly famous 19th century Lucrezia, made her debut in the role at Hamburg in 1849, and in her day was unequalled and completely identified with the role. (She was also a superb Norma, Donna Anna, and Agathe.) In later life she became very fat, and collapsed on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre, London during her last performance, in this role, in 1877, and died soon afterwards.

20th century and beyond

A famous performance of Lucrezia Borgia presented by the American Opera Society Ensemble in 1965 at Carnegie Hall with soprano Montserrat Caballé, who was making her American debut, was soon followed by a recording featuring Caballé, mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett, tenor Alfredo Kraus, and bass Ezio Flagello, conducted by Jonel Perlea, who also led the Carnegie Hall performance. This performance and recording helped re-introduce the work to the opera-loving public.

Lucrezia Borgia is performed from time to time as a vehicle for a star soprano, cases in point being the 2008 performances at the Washington National Opera with Renée Fleming and the 2009 Munich production with Edita Gruberová. Fleming also sang the role at San Francisco Opera in October 2011.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 26 December 1833
(Conductor: Eugenio Cavallini)
Alfonso D'Este, Duke of Ferrara bass Luciano Mariani
Lucrezia Borgia soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande
Maffio Orsini contralto Marietta Brambilla
Gennaro, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Francesco Pedrazzi
Jeppo Liverotto, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Napoleone Marconi
Don Apostolo Gazella, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
bass Giuseppe Visanetti
Ascanio Petrucci, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
baritone Ismaele Guaita
Oloferno Vitellozzo, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Giuseppe Vaschetti
Rustighello, in the service of Don Alfonso tenor Ranieri Pochini
Gubetta, in service of Lucrezia bass Domenico Spiaggi
Astolfo, in service of Lucrezia tenor Francesco Petrazzoli
Gentlemen-at-arms, officers, and nobles of the Venetian Republic;
same, attached to court of Alfonso; ladies-in-waiting, Capuchin monks, etc.

Synopsis[edit]

Time: Early 16th century
Place: Venice and Ferrara

Prologue[edit]

The Palazzo Grimani in Venice

Gennaro and his friends, including Orsini, celebrate on the brightly lit terrace, in front of which lies the Giudecca canal. The friends' conversation turns to Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, to whose house they will be travelling the next day, and to his wife, the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. On hearing Lucrezia's name, Orsini tells of how Gennaro and he, alone in a forest, were warned by a mysterious old man to beware her and the entire Borgia family. Professing his boredom with Orsini's tale Gennaro wanders off and falls asleep nearby. His friends are invited to rejoin the festivities, and he is left alone. A gondola appears and a masked woman steps onto the terrace. She hurries over to the sleeping Gennaro and observes him with affection. (Com'è bello! Quale incanto in quel volto onesto e altero!) She kisses his hand, he wakes and is instantly struck by her beauty. He expresses his love for her and sings of his childhood as an orphan brought up by fishermen. He adds that he loves dearly the mother he has never met. (Di pescatore ignobile esser figliuol credei.) The others return and instantly recognise her as Lucrezia Borgia, listing in turn the members of their families she has killed to Gennaro's horror.

Act 1[edit]

Ferrara

The Duke, believing Gennaro to be Lucrezia's lover, plots his murder with his servant Rustighello (Vieni: la mia vendetta è meditata e pronta.) Gennaro and his companions leave the house for a party and pass the Duke's palace with its large gilded coat of arms reading Borgia. Keen to show his contempt for the Borgia family, Gennaro removes the initial "B", leaving the obscene "Orgia" (orgy).

In the palace, Lucrezia is shown into the Duke's chamber. Having seen the defaced crest, she demands death for the perpetrator, not knowing that it is Gennaro. The Duke orders Gennaro to be brought before her and accuses him of staining the noble name of Borgia, a crime to which he readily confesses. Lucrezia, horrified, attempts to excuse the insult as a youthful prank, but Don Alfonso accuses Lucrezia of infidelity, having observed her meeting with Gennaro in Venice. In a scene full of drama and tension, she denies any impropriety, but he demands the prisoner's death and forces her to choose the manner of Gennaro's execution. Pretending to pardon him, the Duke offers Gennaro a glass of wine and he swallows it. After a stunning trio (Guai se ti sfugge un moto, Se ti tradisce un detto!) the Duke leaves and Lucrezia hurries to Gennaro, giving him an antidote to the poison the Duke has mixed with the wine. He drinks, and in a last duet, she implores him to flee the city and her husband. (Bevi e fuggi ... te'n prego, o Gennaro!)

Act 2[edit]


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The palace of the Princess Negroni

Ignoring Lucrezia's advice, Gennaro attends a party at the palace, swearing never to be parted from his friend Orsini. Orsini leads the party in a brindisi or drinking song ("Il segreto per esser felici") and they drink. Lucrezia enters and announces that in revenge for their insults in Venice she has poisoned their wine and arranged five coffins for their bodies. She has hitherto believed that Gennaro fled Ferrara on her advice, and is thus dismayed when he steps forward and announces that she has poisoned a sixth. Orsini, Liverotto, Vitellozzo, Petrucci and Gazella fall dead. Gennaro seizes a dagger and attempts to kill Lucrezia, but she stops him by revealing that he is in fact her son. Once again she asks him to drink the antidote, but this time he refuses, choosing to die with his friends. In a final cabaletta ("Era desso il figlio mio"), Lucrezia mourns her son and expires.

Music[edit]

The closing cabaletta "Era desso il figlio mio" was added by Donizetti upon insistence by renowned soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande, who created the role of Lucrezia Borgia. It is one of the most demanding arias in all the operatic repertoire, with trills and coloratura passages that demand extreme vocal agility. Donizetti later removed the aria because he believed it damaged the credibility of the ending.[2]

However, in the 1970s the aria found its way back into the opera with gifted coloratura sopranos such as Joan Sutherland, who could deliver flawlessly the final e-flat that extends 8 measures. "Era Desso" is now part of the canonical form, even though many sopranos omit the e-flat and end in a lower note.

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast
(Lucrezia,
Genaro,
Maffio Orsini,
Don Alfonso)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label[3]
1965 Montserrat Caballé,
Alain Vanzo,
Jane Berbié,
Kostas Paskalis
Jonel Perlea,
American Opera Society orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, July)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: 1030815
1966 Montserrat Caballé,
Alfredo Kraus,
Shirley Verrett,
Ezio Flagello
Jonel Perlea,
RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra
CD: RCA
Cat: RCAG 66422RG
1973 Leyla Gencer,
José Carreras,
Tatiana Troyanos,
Matteo Manuguerra
Nicola Rescigno,
Dallas Civic Opera
CD: Melodram
Cat: 270109
1975 Joan Sutherland,
John Brecknock,
Huguette Tourangeau,
Michael Devlin
Richard Bonynge,
Houston Symphony Orchestra and chorus
LP: MRF Records
Cat:MRF-121-S
1977 Joan Sutherland,
Margreta Elkins,
Robert Allman,
Ron Stevens
Richard Bonynge,
Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra and Chorus of Australian Opera
(Live recording)
DVD: Opus Arte "Faveo",
Cat: OAF 4026D
1978 Joan Sutherland,
Giacomo Aragall,
Marilyn Horne,
Ingvar Wixell
Richard Bonynge,
National Philharmonic Orchestra and London Opera Chorus
CD: Decca
Cat: 421497
1979 Leyla Gencer,
Alfredo Kraus,
Elena Zilio,
Bonaldo Giaiotti
Gabriele Ferro,
Teatro Comunale di Firenze orchestra and chorus
CD: Living Stage
Cat: LS1096
1980 Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Anne Howells,
Stafford Dean
Richard Bonynge,
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden orchestra and chorus
DVD: Covent Garden Pioneer
Cat: B 12385-01
1989 Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Martine Dupuy,
Michele Pertusi
Richard Bonynge,
Gran Teatro del Liceo orchestra and chorus
(Video recording of a performance in the Gran Teatro del Liceo, 31 May)
VHS Video Cassette: Lyric Distribution,
Cat: 1842 (incomplete) & 1882 (1990)
2009 Edita Gruberová,
Pavol Breslik,
Alice Coote,
Franco Vassallo

Bertrand de Billy
Bayerisches Staatsoper
(Recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, February)

DVD Medici Arts,
Cat: 2072458-1
2010 Edita Gruberová,
José Bros,
Silvia Tro Santafé,
Franco Vassallo
Andriy Yurkevych
WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln
(Recording of a performance in the Philarmonie Köln, 4 June)
CD: Nightingale Classics AG.
Cat: NC 000100-2
2010 Mariella Devia,
Giuseppe Filianoti,
Mariana Pizzolato,
Alex Esposito
Marco Guidarini
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana
(Recording of a performance in Teatro delle Muse di Ancona, February
CD: Bongiovanni
Cat: GB 2560/62

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Ashbrook and Hibberd, p. 234
  2. ^ Lucrezia Borgia: English National Opera, 31 January 2011
  3. ^ Source for recording information: operadis-opera-discography.org.uk

Cited sources

Other sources

External links[edit]