Saturday, July 2, 2011


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 3rd of July 2011 at 3.03 - 5.10  pm

DONIZETTI: Lucrezia Borgia, with a prologue and two acts
Alfonso......................... Michele Pertusi
Lucrezia........................ Edita Gruberova
Maffio........................... Laura Polverelli
Gennaro........................ José Bros
Jeppo............................ Gergely Németi
Don Aposto.................. Adam Plachetka
Ascanio......................... Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Oloferno....................... Benedikt Kobel
Rustighello..................... Peter Jelosits
Gubetta......................... Hans Peter Kammerer
Astolfo.......................... Marcus Pelz
Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orch/Friedrich Haider
(recorded in the State Opera, Vienna by Austrian Radio)

LIBRETTO (Italian)

This opera is certainly associated in performance history with Joan Sutherland, but it was Montserrat Caballé who revived it, and more recently Renée Fleming (example: with Placido Domingo conducting his Washington National Opera orchestra) and Edita Gruberova (example: this Vienna production) have been giving its soprano arias an airing.

LUCREZIA BORGIA Gaetano Donizetti and Felice [Felix] Romani (1833)
It was not true that she was a professional poisoner, but Victor Hugo put her in a play in this role (early 1833) and Donizetti put her on the operatic stage (late 1833).
    It is a drama about the love of a mother for her abandoned illegitimate son, and the incest is hers, though not with her son, but with her brother (this detail did not get into the opera, as censorship in Italy was strict).

This is the video version I have seen.
    Donna Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara:
Joan Sutherland (soprana suprema)
    Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara :
Stafford Dean (big bass!)
    Gennaro, handsome young soldier of unknown birth (Guess!):
Alfredo Kraus (tenor)
    Maffeo Orsini, young nobleman, one of the five friends :
Ann Howells
    Rustighello, confidential follower of the Duke :
Francis Egerton
    Gubetta, secret agent of the Duchess :
Paul Hudson
    Astolfo, ditto :
Roderick Kennedy
    ROH Covent Garden  1980
    Conductor Richard Bonynge (Svengali, or Pygmalion, brought his statue to life)
The audio recording (Decca) in my possession (12-inch box) has Joan Sutherland,  Giacomo Aragall, and Marilyn Horne, under Bonynge (1977).

The setting is Venice (watch out for a gondola arriving, if they can afford one).
We are partying at the Grimani palace; it is Carnival; the guests are (supposed to be) wearing masks. The first words we hear are from Gazella, one of five friends of Gennaro:
“Bella Venezia” (Beautiful Venice), with Petrucci responding “Amabile” (Lovely).
The spy Gubetta cries out (testing, testing): “Alfonso’s court is splendid, and Lucrezia Borgia...”. Everyone in earshot bids him refrain from uttering that accursed name.
Orsini (a woman always takes the part) has a tale to tell about Gennaro (who asks them to wake him up when Orsini has finished). An old seer had told them they would live and die together, and warned them to avoid the Borgia. Lucrezia arrives incognita; recognizes the sleeping Gennaro and kisses his hand. For him it is love at first sight; he says he loves her a little less than his mother, whom he has never known. They sing the love duet (!). The friends come back, and  recognize her; each accuses her of causing the death of a relative. It’s the Borgia, they declare, to the consternation of Gennaro. All leave. (Will Dame Joan follow her son “grasping him by the knees”?)

ACT 2.1
A public square (piazza) in Ferrara. Everybody has come there. Duke Alfonso has had Gennaro spied on by Rustighello, believing him to be Lucrezia’s secret lover. Gennaro now shows he hates her by removing the B from BORGIA on the coat of arms (leaving ORGIA “orgy”). Rustighello (for the Duke) and Astolfo (for the Duchess) come to bring Gennaro in for questioning.

ACT 2.2
Gennaro is on trial in the palace, and in the end he is given poisoned wine, but she gives him an antidote and lets him escape.

ACT 3.1
A small courtyard outside Gennaro’s house; night; a light in one of the windows.
Gennaro (apparently thriving after taking the antidote) says to himself that he must go, because Lucrezia wishes it; he speaks of his love for her: T’amo (te amo, I love thee) he says repeatedly. Rustighello and his henchman arrive to arrest him and take him back to Duke Alfonso, but they overhear a conversation between Gennaro and Orsini, who persuades him to attend Princess Negroni’s banquet (which Lucrezia is putting on, but they don’t know that), and they will leave together next day. Rustighello realizes that he does not need to arrest him, as Lucrezia will poison all the young men, including Gennaro, and the Duke will have thereby achieved his goal.

ACT 3.2
The banquet is at the home of Princess Negroni. At one point in the festivities, Gubetta (the Duchess’s agent) mocks Orsini as he is about to sing one of his own compositions. Fighting breaks out, and the ladies leave (as intended). Fine wine from Syracuse is brought in, previously poisoned, and all the lads unknowingly imbibe, and get on with the drinking-song of Orsini. Suddenly a bell tolls and mysterious voices intone judgement on the ungodly. The torches are extinguished, and the doors are found to be locked. Lucrezia makes her entrance and declares five coffins are ready for them. Gennaro steps forward and says six will be needed. Shock horror. The other five victims are taken away, and then she offers him the antidote; but it is all or nothing at all. They will all die and Lucrezia will go with them; as he goes to stab her she announces that she is the mother he loves; too late, his resolution is reinforced by the sounds of his friends in their death-throes; but he is thankful that God has allowed mother and son to be united in death. Her husband Alfonso comes in to gloat over the extermination of her lover, but he now learns the truth about their relationship. In anguish she falls dead (into the arms of her ladies-in-waiting, or onto her son’s body, or somewhere in between).

Accompanying e-mail message: Borgia orgy opera 3/7/11
As usual, there are no attachments to my message, but this opera includes a deviant attachment between a mother and her son (they sing an incestuous love duet, something like the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre, now showing in cinemas in New Zealand, starting on this very day in our town); but this is even worse, as the father is apparently a brother of the lady (a duchess, no less). But before you say she's no lady, she's Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) the monstrous poisoner, let me say a few words in her defence:

in real life she was the daughter of one of the mistresses of Rodrigo Borgia, alias Pope Alexander VI, so her upbringing would have been eminently pious we may presume;

she once took her father's place at an official Vatican meeting, and the dignitaries would have kissed her ring (definitely not the one she is alleged to have kept her poison in);

she was proficient in five languages, and as a linguist myself I am impressed (all the better for writing pretty love letters, as Byron discovered);

she had a dozen children and she made sure they had a good genetic variety of parentages, but sadly she died giving birth to the (officially) eighth child;

all the crowned heads of Europe (including Britain) are related to her (the same way as I have family connections with Robert the Bruce, and I think it is called collateral damage);

and she had long blond hair which hung down below her knees (or that part of the body behind the knees, which shall remain nameless), and Byron got himself a lock of it.

Need I say more? No, because you can gain access to copious notes at (see above):
Written with a non-poison pen
Yours untoxically and unintoxicatedly

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