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Ira Siff
Opera News, October 2009

Donizetti was ahead of his time with Lucrezia Borgia. In Victor Hugo’s play of the same name (Lucrèce Borgia in French) and the same year (1833), the composer found the sort of bold dramatic situations that inspired him. He had some trouble convincing his librettist, the estimable Felice Romani, that the project would fly, despite the success of Hugo’s play in Paris. After all, there were the censors to deal with—and how about that heroine who goes around poisoning everyone, even her own son (albeit unintentionally in his case)? But Romani acquiesced, and within ten months of Hugo’s triumph in Paris came Donizetti’s at La Scala. The opera had a good run, despite the censors’ doing away with a chilling scene involving six onstage coffins awaiting Lucrezia’s victims, not to mention prima donna Henriette Méric-Lalande’s insistence that she sing a final cabaletta over the tenor’s dead body, as it were. Various revivals were forced to rename the opera and alter certain situations (the same fate awaited Maria Stuarda) in order for the work to be sanctioned in other cities. But in the long run, divas were drawn to the role of Lucrezia, censorship loosened up, and the opera caught on as a popular vehicle for several decades before largely vanishing until the bel canto revival of the 1950s and ’60s. It was, of course, the opera in which Montserrat Caballé exploded onto the international scene (an evening some of us will treasure forever). Leyla Gencer, the great Donizetti singer, also made a specialty of the role.

Now, in this production for the 2007 Donizetti festival in the composer’s hometown of Bergamo, dynamic Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou has her way with the bel canto monster…Theodossiou sings it handsomely. As the role progresses, she is able to let loose, building to a satisfyingly demented final cabaletta. It’s clear that this is a soprano who enjoys carrying on…De Biasio has a nice lyric sound…Palacios is effective in the Act II friendship duet with him…Severini…is very successful in drawing musical performances from his singers, particularly in the marvelous Act I sotto voce trio for Lucrezia, Gennaro and Alfonso. And the Bergamo forces perform nicely for him.

Jane Reed
Video Librarian, September 2009

Filmed in 2007 at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, Italy, this is a traditional production, featuring simple but effective sets and attractive costuming. The able cast includes Dimitra Theodossiou as Lucrezia, Roberto De Biasio as Gennaro, and Enrico Giuseppe Iori as Alfonso, backed by the Bergamo Music Festival Orchestra under the baton of Tiziano Severini.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, June 2009

Lucrezia Borgia was the inaugural production at the 2007 Bergamo Music Festival, which used to be called the Festival Donizetti. Like the production of Roberto Devereux the previous year [2.110232], it has made it onto DVD, under the Naxos label, courtesy of a licence from the Italian company Dynamic. We get a brief essay on Donizetti’s life and a track-related synopsis each given only in English. The dual-layered disc has a very generous number of tracks, each with listed timings and details of the characters involved…This new production, in the revision by Roger Parker from manuscript sources, was in collaboration with Teatro Verdi di Sassari and Teatro Regio di Torino where it seemed to share the plague which afflicted the other 2007 Italian Opera festivals when leading scheduled singers withdrew. That Bergamo escaped this plague was perhaps due to careful casting with the formidable Dimitra Theodossiou scheduled for the eponymous role and ably supported by good but not international singers. In fact it was Theodossiou who came to the rescue when Fiorenza Cedolins pulled out in Turin. As I noted in my review of the Roberto Devereux from the 2006 Festival referred to above, whilst Theodossiou cannot claim the vocal elegance and floated pianissimos of Montserrat Caballé, and must be tired of comparisons with Callas, she brings committed acting on a par with her Greek compatriot.

In her own right Theodossiou is justifiably considered the Norma de nos jours and features widely in Italy and elsewhere in the bel canto repertoire. Her virtues include a clear open tone, without Callas’s often-occluded notes, allied to good diction alongside her convincing qualities as an actress. These qualities are shown in this performance to best effect in Lucrezia’s dramatic confrontation with Don Alfonso, her husband, who has tricked her into demanding the death of Gennaro, unbeknown to him, her son. After taking him full on to the extent of reminding him that she has seen off three husbands, she ends up pleading desperately for Gennaro’s life (CHs.21–22). Her husband, still convinced they are lovers, only offers her the choice of poison or the sword for the boy. Theodossiou’s skills as a dramatic vocal actress are consummate in this scene. Her wide variety of tonal depth, colour and expression are also heard in the final moving cabaletta Era desso il figlio mio that Donizetti added for a revival at La Scala in 1840 (CH.39). In the contrasting lovely Tranquilla ei posa …Come’ e bello!…Mentre geme of the prologue, as Lucrezia arrives in Venice and espies the sleeping Gennaro, her pianissimos at the start could have been steadier (CHs.5–7). That said, the overall expressive portrayal is wholly credible.

The only other female voice is that of Maffio Orsini, young companion of Gennaro. A trousers role, it is sung by the mezzo Nidia Palacios, whose zany hairstyle, over-feminine appearance, and some lack of convincing lower notes detracts from her portrayal (CHs.3 and 34). Such matters are better portrayed in the appearance, singing and acting of Roberto De Biasio as Gennaro. I recently admired his vocal prowess in Maria Stuarda from the 2007 Sferisterio Opera Festival (2.110268) and also as Edgardo in the 2006 Bergamo performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. His willingness to sing mezza voce as well as his ardent open-toned lyric tenor singing impresses me in this arduous role. The strong dark-toned bass Enrico Giuseppe Iori sings with a good variety of colour to complement his vocal depth in both his confrontation with his wife and the setting of the plot for his revenge on Gennaro (CHs.13–15).

The simple brick-faced structure of Angelo Sala’s set doubles with minimum additions for Venice and Ferrara and, like the dark costumes, are wholly realistic for the period. The bright colours of the dancers in the party scene highlight the contrast of mood (CH.31). The overall atmosphere is dark as befits the story. Director Francesco Belloto reveals the detail of the evolving story with conviction and without gimmicks. This is evident not least in the managing of the impressive chorus and the atmosphere created as the coffins are set (CHs.35–39) in the scene that so offended the censors for the original production. The darkness of the scenes is matched by the male voices in the supporting cast, all of whom sing and act with conviction. Conductor Tiziano Severini paces Donizetti’s drama and supports his singers in masterly bel canto fashion…This DVD serves as an excellent introduction to the work for potential opera-goers who are perhaps not wholly conversant with the composer’s powerful dramatic creations from this period between Anna Bolena (1830), his first international success, and Lucia di Lamermoor, his most melodic and famous work (1835).

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

Donizetti’s murderous drama, Lucrezia Borgia, has had a checkered career, its subject causing offence in the 19th century, and only in recent times has it begun to claim a rightful place in the repertoire. The character had been real enough, and it was true that she came from a family that eliminated anyone who got in their way, but how much history elaborated her own story is unclear. Donizetti, on the other hand, cared little as to the authenticity of the libretto supplied by Felice Romani, his main concern being to capitalise on the success of Victor Hugo’s play of the same name. The opera’s version of events has Lucrezia’s husband believing she has a lover who he decides to kill. After a protracted series of events, the lover is poisoned, and only then does the husband discover that the person in fact is her abandoned son now restored to his mother. It may make for a big ending, but this new production includes the soprano aria that Donizetti misguidedly made just to please the original conceited soprano. The film was made at a performance in the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo during November and December 2007, and is a traditional production by Francesco Bellotto and dressed in period costume designed by Cristina Aceti. The sets are functional, yet clearly delineate the change of location. In the name role is the Greek soprano, Dimitra Theodossiou, an imposing singer who needs time to warm a massive voice and was not firing on all cylinders until the close of the long Prologue. The Sicilian tenor, Roberto De Biasio, is more than adequate as her long lost son, Gennaro, and is visually well cast. Powerful in voice and appearance, Enrico Giuseppe Iori, takes the part of the husband, the Duke of Ferrara, and much too short in stature to take the male role of Maffio Orsini, Nidia Palacios is a mezzo of outstanding quality. Good orchestra conducted by Tiziano Severini, picture and sound quality are both of the highest quality.

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