Lucrezia Borgia


Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia opera to a libretto by Felice Romani. Directed 2012 by John Pascoe at the War Memorial Opera House in San Fransisco. Stars Renée Fleming (Borgia), Michael Fabiano (Gennaro), Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), Vitalij Kowaljow (Duca Alfonso), Christopher Jackson (Jeppo Liverotto), Brian Jagde (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Austin Kness (Apostolo Gazella), Ao Li (Ascanio Petrucci), Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello), Igor Vieira (Gubetta), Ryan Kuster (Astolfo), Blanche Hampton (Princess Negroni), Jere Torkelsen (A Voice) as well as Mary Finch, Claire Kelm, Sally Mouzon, and Sally Monro (Ladies of the Court). Riccardo Frizza conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (Acting Concertmaster Laura Albers) and Chorus (Chorus Master Ian Robertson). Production designs by John Pascoe; lighting by Jeff Bruckerhoff; choreography by Lawrence Pech; directed for TV by Frank Zamacona. Producers were Jessica Koplos and Matthew Shilvock; David Gockley was Executive Producer. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

This San Francisco production has impressive traditional sets, beautiful costumes, and apt personal directing for great old-style story-telling. I recently reviewed a modern version of this opera with stripped-down mise-en-scène directed by Christof Loy in Munich. I suggest you consult that review first if you are not familiar with the plot of Lucrezia Borgia.

The first screenshot shows Michael Fabiano as Gennaro in a wonderful period-inspired costume created to please modern taste:

Wearing the trousers is Elizabeth DeShong as Maffio Orsini, Gennaro's best friend and comrade-in-arms:

Our heroes bow before the Duke and Duchess of Grimani in Venice at a party; the next day the soldiers will depart for Ferrara to visit Duke Alfonso d'Este, the husband of Lucrezia Borgia. The elaborate costumes help me distinguish the various factions involved:

Lucrezia Borgia (Renée Fleming) is in Venice to see Gennaro, her son abandoned as a baby. We never learn about the sad history of this mother and son, and Lucrezia will not reveal the truth to anyone until the end of the opera:

Here's good chemistry between Fleming and Fabiano:

Gennaro is attracted to the mysterious lady as a mother-figure. But his joy at meeting her is shattered when he learns she is reviled by his comrades as "the Borgia."

Franco Vassallo is magnificent as Duke Alfonso, and he gets the most enthusiastic approval from the live audience:


As I write this, people all over the United States are contending whether it's time now to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from all places of honor in our nation (which should have happened 150 years ago when the South lost the United States Civil War). Here Gennaro removes the letter "B" from it's place of honor, a clever move which gives the wife of Duke Alfonso the porno name of "Lucrezia Orgia":

When Lucrezia sees her name defaced, she's as nasty as ever in getting the Duke to promise death to the culprit:


Plan B:

The Duke thinks Gennaro is Lucrezia's young lover. Now he gets revenge on his faithless wife and his feckless rival:

But the Borgia outwits the Duke:

Now the Borgia plots revenge on the soldiers in Venice who insulted her earlier. They are all invited to a phony party where they soon find themselves drinking spiked Kool-Aid:

The Borgia gloats until she learns that her son has crashed the party to be with his friend Maffio:

Alfonso is astonished to learn the truth about his wife and the handsome young officer:

Confère John Aitken recommended the San Francisco Lucrezia Borgia to opera lovers who find the Christof Loy version in Munich too spartan. Pascoe and his staff came up a spectacle that's traditional but not dated.

Fleming has done (per her count) a dozen bel canto roles. Although glorious coloratura is not her specialty, her singing, appearance, and acting in San Francisco is impressive. Still, most opera experts would probably give Edita Gruberova in Munich the nod over Fleming in this role. Vitalij Kowaljow as the Duke in San Francisco gives one of the strongest bass performances that we have in HDVD. Michael Fabiano is splendid here as Gennaro, but so is Pavol Breslik in the Christof Loy show.  Elizabeth DeShong is energetic and appealing as Maffio Orsini in San Francisco, but I think Alice Coote proves hard to beat in Munich.

I find that this San Francisco show stronger in the drama department than the Munich production, but the Munich show has a slight edge in the singing. I would rate both productions about the same in all other respects. We are lucky to have two different approaches to Lucrezia Borgia that both deserve an "A" grade.

Here is a clip from EuroArts: