Lucrezia Borgia (opera)
"Lucrezia Borgia" is a "
melodramma", or opera, in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romaniwrote the Italian librettoafter the play by Victor Hugo, in its turn after the legend of Lucrezia Borgia.
Lucrezia Borgia was first performed on
26 December 1833at La Scala, Milanwith Lelande and Pedrazzi.
The first London production was at
Her Majesty's Theatrein 1839 with Giulia Grisiand Mario. When the opera was staged in Paris(Theatre des Italiens) in 1840, Victor Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions within the domain of French copyright law. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled "La Rinegata", with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed.
The first English-language production was in London on 30 December, 1843. The English tenor
Sims Reeveswas a noted Gennaro. Lucrezia was presented at New York (Astor Place Opera House) in 1847: with Giulia Grisi in 1854; and with Therese Tietjens and Brignoli in 1876. It was given at the Academy of Music in 1882, and at the Metropolitan Opera Housein 1902 with Enrico Carusoas Gennaro.
Therese Tietjens was a particularly famous 19th century Lucrezia, who made her debut in the role at
Hamburgin 1849, and in her day was unequalled and completely identified with the role. (She was also a superb Norma, Donna Anna, and Agathe.) In later life she became very fat, and collapsed on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre, London during her last performance, in this role, in 1877. She died soon afterwards.
A famous performance of "Lucrezia Borgia" given in 1965 at
Carnegie Hallwith soprano Montserrat Caballé(her American debut) was soon followed by a recording featuring Caballé, mezzo soprano Shirley Verrett, tenor Alfredo Kraus, and bass Ezio Flagello, conducted by Jonel Perlea. This performance and recording helped reintroduce the work to the opera-loving public.
Lucrezia's aria "Com'è bello", Orsino's "brindisi" "Il segreto per esser felice", the tenor's "Di pescator ignobile", and the bass aria "Vieni, la mia vendetta!" are all very effective and famous melodic moments from the opera and have been performed and recorded frequently.
"Lucrezia Borgia" is still performed from time to time as a vehicle for a star soprano, and there are several recordings available.
The Palazzo Grimani in Venice. Gennaro and his friends celebrate on the brightly lit terrace, in front of which lies the Giudecca canal. The friends’ conversation turns to Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, to whose house they will be travelling the next day, and to his wife, the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. On hearing Lucrezia’s name, Orsini tells of how Gennaro and he, alone in a forest, were warned by a mysterious old man to beware her and the entire Borgia family. Professing his boredom with Orsini’s tale Gennaro wanders off and falls asleep nearby. His friends are invited to rejoin the festivities, and he is left alone.A gondola appears and a masked woman steps onto the terrace. She hurries over to the sleeping Gennaro and observes him with affection. "(Com'è bello! Quale incanto in quel volto onesto e altero!)" She kisses his hand, he wakes and is instantly struck by her beauty. He expresses his love for her and sings of his childhood as an orphan brought up by fishermen. He adds that he loves dearly the mother he has never met. "(Di pescatore ignobile esser figliuol credei.)" The others return and instantly recognise her as Lucrezia Borgia, listing in turn the members of their families she has killed to Gennaro’s horror.
Ferrara. The Duke, believing Gennaro to be Lucrezia’s lover, plots his murder with his servant Rustighello "(Vieni: la mia vendetta é mediatata e pronta.)" Gennaro and his companions leave the house for a party and pass the Duke’s palace with its large gilded coat of arms reading ‘Borgia’. Keen to show his contempt for the Borgia family, Gennaro removes the initial ‘B’, leaving the obscene ‘Orgia.’In the palace, Lucrezia is shown into the Duke’s chamber. Having seen the defaced crest, she demands death for the perpetrator, not knowing that it is Gennaro. The Duke orders Gennaro to be brought before her and accuses him of staining the noble name of Borgia, a crime to which he readily confesses. Lucrezia, horrified, attempts to excuse the insult as a youthful prank, but Don Alfonso accuses Lucrezia of infidelity, having observed her meeting with Gennaro in Venice. In a scene full of drama and tension, she denies any impropriety, but he demands the prisoner’s death and forces her to choose the manner of Gennaro’s execution. Pretending to pardon him, the Duke offers Gennaro a glass of wine and he swallows it. After a stunning trio ("Guai se ti sfugge un moto, Se ti tradisce un detto!)" the Duke leaves and Lucrezia hurries to Gennaro, giving him an antidote to the poison the Duke has mixed with the wine. He drinks, and in a last duet she implores him to flee the city and her husband. "(Bevi e fuggi ... te'n prego, o Gennaro!)"
Gennaro, ignoring Lucrezia’s advice, attends a party at the palace of the princess Negroni, swearing never to be parted from his friend Orsini. Orsini leads the party in a brindisi or drinking song "(Il segreto per esser felici)" and they drink. Lucrezia enters and announces that in revenge for their insults in Venice she has poisoned their wine and arranged five coffins for their bodies. She has hitherto believed that Gennaro fled Ferrara on her advice, and is thus dismayed when he steps forward and announces that she has poisoned a sixth. Orsini, Liverotto, Vitellozzo, Petrucci and Gazella fall dead. Gennaro seizes a dagger and attempts to kill Lucrezia, but she stops him by revealing that he is in fact her son. Once again she asks him to drink the antidote, but this time he refuses, choosing to die with his friends. In a final cabaletta "(Era desso il figlio mio,)" Lucrezia mourns her son and expires.
* [http://opera.stanford.edu/iu/libretti/lucrez.htm Complete libretto]
* G. Kobbé, "
The Complete Opera Book", English edition (London and New York 1922), 339-343.
* H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, "Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera" (Corrected edition) (London & Oxford 1974).
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