Lucrezia Borgia is rarely performed in its entirety, so it was exciting when The ENO announced they would be staging Donizetti’s strange opera. I had no idea what to expect from the piece, though previously received a less than complimentary review from a friend who attended the dress rehearsal, so I rather lowered my expectations.
The work, first performed in 1833, revolves around an oedipal relationship between a mother and son. Lucrezia’s estranged son returns but is unaware of his mother’s identity, and begins to fall for her and is flattered by the attention she shows him. Concealing her real identity until the final moments of the opera, the consequences of her vile pretence cause havoc.
This is, in some ways a beautifully traditional production. The set is dark and minimalist but with grand gilded elements that hark back to the Renaissance. Contrasting with this are four filmic interruptions. They are unexpected and definitely out of place in this opera house, but are gripping and beautiful and provide a helpful and histrionic back story about the Borgia family. The pieces of film are arguably the best thing about this production. Director, Mike Figgis is new to opera but shows his talent for film-making with these mysteriously alluring clips, shown on a huge screen.
I think the singing is exceptional from all the cast. Claire Rutter as Lucrezia and Michael Fabiano as her son Gennaro are breathtaking. The music is often very tricky and their efforts are commendable, they sing with real conviction and devotion. Rutter maintains her venomous character throughout, singing out the complex coloratura part with a gorgeous tone and immense power, her voice filled the giant auditorium. Elizabeth DeShong is completely charming as Gennaro’s friend Orsini, with long golden hair and clearly a girl, though dressed and referred to as male, her sex is confusingly ambiguous.
The chorus seems a little disorientated, wandering about the stage, seemingly without purpose. Perhaps this is not helped by conductor Paul Daniel who is better during the solo moments on stage, and seems a little weak to lead the ensemble numbers. Although I found this production puzzling, and at times a little static, the music is of the highest standard and is a pleasure to listen to.
This is a rare chance to see Donizetti’s melodrama; Lucrezia Borgia runs only until 3 March 2011, book here.