by Gaetano Donizetti
I watched a dress rehearsal of this opera with my Dad.
Here's the quick and dirty version of the story: Lucrezia is known throughout Italy for her beauty and her cruelty. Gennaro, a young nobleman in Venice, sees her in a gondola and instantly falls in love. Unbeknownst to him, Lucrezia is actually his mother. After telling her that he loves her, Gennaro sings a song about his childhood and the mother he never knew, which when you think about it is a rather odd thing to tell a woman you've just met, but never mind that. Lucrezia laps this up like candy; she's pleased as can be that her love-child has grown up so strong and handsome. Suddenly, Gennaro's companions return from wherever they went and inform him that he's talking to the infamous Borgia woman, and in horror they retreat. Meanwhile, Lucrezia's husband the Duke of Ferrara is convinced that Gennaro is Lucrezia's latest lover, and arranges to have him killed. He tricks the young man into drinking a cup of poisoned wine. Lucky for Gennaro, Lucrezia hastily gives him an antidote before the poison finishes him off. She begs him to leave the city, but instead Gennaro sneaks off to a drinking party with his friends. At the party, Lucrezia appears and gleefully informs the group that she has poisoned them all; when she realizes that Gennaro is among the drinkers she once again offers him an antidote. She also reveals that he is her son, which shocks poor Gennaro. He'd probably have to do some serious thinking if he wasn't dying. He refuses the antidote and expires, leaving Lucrezia alone in her grief, which kills her.
The Duke of Awesome and his well-dressed wife Lucrezia
Can a great actor/actress transcend the mediocrity of their material to create a compelling show?
This is the question I'm left with after watching the San Francisco Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia. The title character is played by Renee Fleming, and as near as I can tell she's a great opera star. She sings well, sounds well, expresses well, and looks lovely on the stage. In an opera like Lucrezia Borgia, the success of the show sits almost entirely on her shoulders. But even if she tries her hardest, the story and music are pretty weak so it won't a spectacular show.
So yeah. Renee was a great Lucrezia Borgia, bringing a mix of maternal affection and a chilling, ruthless streak to the character. But unfortunately, this version of Lucrezia's story isn't written all that well. The songs are kinda dull and the plot plods along. So overall, it's not much fun to watch.
The other singers were pretty good, too. I liked the threatening Duke of Ferrara, played by Vitalij Kowaljow. He was oddly likeable for a guy who didn't do much besides kill people. Michael Fabiano, the man playing Gennaro, was an excellent singer too, but his character's such a problem. He's got a whole Oedipus complex going on - in love with his mother and whatnot – but in this production he's also got some kind of relationship going on with his friend Orsini (played by a woman, but I'm not sure if the character is meant to be a male or female, it could go either way) and there's some really interesting psychological stuff going on...but since Donizetti opted to not really go into any of that in his opera, it's disappointing.
I give the San Francisco Opera props for trying, though. They do what they can to make this opera pop. Lucrezia wears some gorgeous costumes in the show. I mean, they don't make me think “Italian Renaissance” or “Borgias” so much as “almost steampunk”, but for what they are they look great.
Yeah, that ain't Renaissance but DAMN she looks amazing!
But hey, what do I know about opera anyway? Sometimes I feel like half the show just flies over my head 'cuz I don't know anything about music.