Notes and Editorial Reviews
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A notorious femme fatale renowned for her ruthless pursuit of power reveals poignant vulnerability when she comes face to face with her long-lost son in this captivating, elegant production from San Francisco Opera.
Lucrezia Borgia – Renée Fleming
Gennaro – Michael Fabiano
Maffio Orsine – Elizabeth DeShong
Duke Alfonso – Vitalij Kowaljow
San Francisco Opera Ballet
San Francisco Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Ian Robertson)
Riccardo Frizza, conductor
John Pascoe, stage director, set and costume designer
Jeffrey Bruckerhoff, lighting designer
Lawrence Pech, choreographer
Recorded live from the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, August 2012
- Interviews with Renée Fleming, Michael Fabiano, Elizabeth DeShong
- Production time-lapse: 24 hours on stage in 8 minutes
Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Japanese, Korean
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 184 mins
No. of Discs: 2
R E V I E W:
DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia • Riccardo Frizza, cond, Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia); Michael Fabiano (Gennaro); Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini); Vitalij Kowaljow (Duke Alfonso); San Francisco Op Ch & O • EUROARTS 2059644 (Blu-ray: 127:00 + 19:00) Live: San Francisco 09–10/2011
Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia still stubbornly refuses to really become standard repertory, although it is an obvious draw to a soprano wishing to play a bel canto heroine who isn’t a drip. Although successfully played by the specialists like Joan Sutherland and Edita Gruberova, it is a more dramatic part than some of more overtly coloratura roles that Donizetti wrote, and tends to work best when cast with a richer voice. For many, like myself, it is Montserrat Caballé’s pioneering recording that introduced us to Donizetti’s bonkers drama about a bonkers woman. Reveling in the rumor more than established fact, this lurid tale sees the degenerate temptress married to the Duke of Ferrara (her fourth husband), and seeking pleasure elsewhere in Venice. Nearly seducing her own son, Gennaro, she ends up trying to save him from poisoning (twice!), having poisoned five of his friends for defacing an inscription of her name, leaving the word orgia (orgy). Containing rousing choruses, a drinking song, and copious party scenes, its final act is shocking in its macabre irony, containing a love duet between mother and son that, even after the realization, sounds utterly passionate.
The closest we have to a Caballé now is Renée Fleming, a rich and creamy lyric with star power and a legato to die for. She had made Lucrezia rather a feature of her career, performing it since the early 1990s. I had worried that maybe Euroarts caught her too late in this San Francisco production two years ago, but at 52 even Fleming’s detractors have to admire her utter technical consistency. Nevertheless, I’m never entirely convinced by Fleming in bel canto, or indeed psychopathic roles. The caramel coated fabulousness of her voice is an awkward fit to clean coloratura runs and mass poisoning, but Lucrezia is a more lyrical fit than, say, Adina or Lucia, and she passes every technical test, with my only real gripe being the swooping and changing of color for effect that is becoming a tic. Otherwise she gives a fine master class in vocal coloring and legato, and she can even do a passable trill, which is a minor miracle given the dense thickness of her timbre. A cautious but diligent actor, she is to my mind still a bit too Little Miss Perfect for the deranged murderer, slitting her throat beautifully, like Julia Child dissecting a roast chicken. But she has the looks to seduce, and if I find her a little too buttoned up, she does rise to the final melodrama very well.
I’m very taken with the rest of cast members too, most of whom are new to me. Michael Fabiano is a handsome stage presence and sings with the ideal, light Italianate tone. The trouser role of Orsini is well taken by Elizabeth DeShong, who is at home in both the dramatic ensembles as well as the inevitable superfluous drinking song that is just the Law in any Donizetti work. As Alfonso it is a pleasure to finally hear a true bass in today’s opera houses, although Viatlij Kowaljow is a little stiff as Duke Alfonso. Overall San Francisco here provides a far more consistent bel canto cast than the Met has lately, if their broadcasts have been anything to go by.
The production, although safe and traditional, keeps an impressive balance of historical accuracy and stylization, with costumes (Gennaro’s leather-clad, bare-chested outfit is a depraved delight) that add just the right level of camp to this ridiculous work.
Riccardo Frizza keeps things alive and tidy but doesn’t ignore the score’s more pensive moments, such as that gloomy opening (so reminiscent of Lucia di Lammermoor) or the Duke’s first entrance, and he is to be praised for not simply galloping through the many jaunty chorus numbers. The chorus, often moving in exaggerated marching formations, sings well with excellent diction. The Blu-ray picture is typically flawless, the sound full-bodied and vibrant from both stage and pit. Extras and notes are better than most opera DVDs, with Fleming being an especially intelligent, revealing interviewee. This is a safe bet, although to be fair I haven’t seen the competition, including one other on Blu-ray with Edita Gruberova. There is a tempting Covent Garden DVD with Joan Sutherland and Alfredo Kraus, but as 1980 is a little late for Joan Sutherland in the acting and diction stakes, Fleming surely wins. So this is an easy first choice.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield Read less
Works on This Recording
Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
Vitalij Kowaljow (Bass),
Michael Fabiano (Tenor),
Elizabeth Deshong (Mezzo Soprano)
San Francisco Opera Orchestra,
San Francisco Opera Chorus
Written: 1833; Italy
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