Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Lucrezia Borgia – Edita Gruberova
Gennaro – Pavol Breslik
Don Alfonso – Franco Vassallo
Orsini – Alice Coote
Gubetta – Steven Humes
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Bavarian State Orchestra
Bertrand de Billy, conductor
Christof Loy, stage director
Recorded live at the Nationaltheater, Munich, 1 and 6 July 2009
The Art of Bel Canto - Edita Gruberova
a portrait documentary by Claus Wischmann and Stefan Pannen
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 133 mins (opera) + 54 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9)
Lucrezia Borgia is not one of Donizetti's masterpieces, but it nonetheless can be enormously stageworthy. Despite a wonderful piece or two for tenor and baritone and the justly famous "Il segreto" for mezzo, most of the burden falls upon the shoulders of the heroine. As in Lucia, if there isn't a great Lucrezia, it's not a great Lucrezia.
The raison d'être for this Munich production (recorded in July, 2009) clearly is the soprano Edita Gruberova, now in her 60s and in her fifth decade of performing, who still owns a voice remarkably intact. Always a brilliant coloratura with a rock-solid upper extension, she is practically a cult figure in Munich, Vienna, and Zurich; fans follow her everywhere. Her voice never was a beautiful instrument per se, but few singers are as well-trained: impeccable coloratura, blazing, right-on high notes, an ability to spin out long, legato phrases, a command of messa di voce that is unparalleled, and, in the past decade, a level of commitment that has turned her into a great singing actress. What she may have lost in vocal velvet (some high notes are paint-peelers) she has made up for in a solid middle octave and a no-holds-barred chest voice.
Christoph Loy is a director who likes to shake things up, and he does so here by practically refusing to do anything. The only props are a chair or two and the name of the heroine/opera in large letters on a white wall. (Henrik Ahr is credited with the sets; where does one apply for such a job?) Barbara Drosihn is the costumer; Gennaro and his pals (and Alfonso) wear plain modern black suits and slim ties, à la "Reservoir Dogs". Some thugs in the second act are "costumed" in gaily-colored tights and Lucrezia has three costume changes and a bunch of wigs, the last of which she tears off in mid-aria. Budgetary constraints being what they are, I can understand a minimalist approach, but this amounts to practically no production at all.
Close-ups do not favor Gruberova; you can see how hard she's working, and she distorts her face enough to make it a distraction. But if you love her voice--and superb though it is, it is hardly a caressing sound (as, say, Caballé or Sills, both of whom shone in the role)--you can only be amazed by the way she alters it from mood to mood, or by her attention to the text, or her skill and fearlessness. And she throws herself into the role physically as well. In short, she does not disappoint.
Tenor Pavol Breslik, a handsome Slovakian tenor just 30 years old, has been singing Haydn, Mozart, and light Donizetti (Nemorino); his move here into slightly heavier territory is successful. The role sits low so there's no sense of strain; he avoids optional high notes. But the voice is beautiful and he hurls himself around the stage as if the action were meaningful. Franco Vassallo uses his dark baritone to good advantage as the nasty Alfonso, snarling up a storm.
Best in the cast is the remarkable Alice Coote as Orsini; this trouser role fits her like a glove. She carries herself like a young man, her Brindisi is exciting and her even tone is as expressive as it is well-produced. Conductor Bertrand de Billy seems to realize that the audience cares about the singers rather than the music, and therefore keeps things moving without ever getting in their way.
An extra, almost hour-long DVD is devoted to a portrait of Gruberova. It's informative and intelligent, with her addressing the audience directly, and it includes clips from some of her roles as well as testimonials. Sound and picture on both DVDs are top quality; subtitles are in English, German, Italian, and French. Of course this is a must for Gruberova fans, but it's ahead of the competition as well: Dimitra Theodossiou sings poorly on a Naxos DVD, and while Joan Sutherland is in good voice from Covent Garden in 1977 (Kultur) and has Alfredo Kraus by her side (as her son--please don't look too closely), she is temperamentally unsuited to the part.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti
Steven Humes (Bass),
Alice Coote (Mezzo Soprano),
Franco Vassallo (Bass),
Edita Gruberova (Soprano),
Pavol Breslik (Tenor)
Bertrand De Billy
Bavarian State Orchestra,
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
Written: 1833; Italy
Date of Recording: 07/2009
Venue: Nationaltheater, Munich
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