Family Trouble: Lucrezia Borgia at the Festival Donizetti Opera

Donizetti – Lucrezia Borgia

Don Alfonso – Marko Mimica
Donna Lucrezia Borgia – Carmela Remigio
Gennaro – Xabier Anduaga
Maffio Orsini – Varduhi Abrahamyan
Jeppo Liverotto – Manuel Pierattelli
Don Apostolo Gazella – Alex Martini
Ascanio Petrucci – Roberto Maietta
Oloferno Vitellozzo – Daniele Lettieri
Gubetta – Rocco Cavalluzzi
Rustighello – Edoardo Milletti
Astolfo – Federico Benetti

Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, Banda di Palcoscenico del Conservatorio Gaetano Donizetti di Bergamo, Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini / Riccardo Frizza.
Stage director – Andrea Bernard.

Festival Donizetti Opera, Teatro Sociale, Bergamo, Italy.  Friday, November 22nd, 2019.

Lucrezia Borgia is very much the ultimate boys’ night out in Venice gone wrong.  After all, it makes for quite a hangover.  After getting absolutely trashed by the canal, Gennaro is rediscovered by his birth mother, who just so happens to be married to the ultimate jealous husband, her fourth, setting in train a series of events that end in tragedy.  For this new staging for the Festival Donizetti Opera, the production was confided to the 32 year old stage director from Bolzano, Andrea Bernard.  The festival assembled a youthful cast around the experienced soprano, Carmela Remigio, in the title role.  The equally youthful Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, was conducted by the festival’s music director, Riccardo Frizza.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Bernard gives us a very visual staging, one that clearly lays out Lucrezia’s backstory and explains it in intricate stage detail.  The curtain rises to an image of Lucrezia looking over a crib, from where her baby is taken away by a priestly-looking figure.  The presence of broken cribs was a constant on stage – a reminder of Gennaro’s origins and the fact that neither he, nor Lucrezia, could escape their respective pasts.  This was a society full of danger, where shadowy figures with masked faces were ever-present and violence against others, including women, commonplace.  Bernard also had another figure, a man in either his underwear or an adult diaper – it was hard to tell, who appeared whenever characters came close to death.  Similarly, the Principessa Negroni gyrated randomly around the stage at her party, suffering from a wardrobe malfunction à la Janet Jackson.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Bernard definitely gave us a lot to look at, but I did wonder frequently whether it was all a bit de trop.  It felt that Bernard resorted to illustrating everything possible, rather than allowing us space to reflect on what was happening.  Particularly, as so often, the personenregie consisted of a fair bit of standing, facing the front and delivering.  That isn’t to say there wasn’t tangible chemistry between the principals – there most certainly was and in considerable quantities.  Bernard also brought out a genuine tenderness between Xabier Anduaga’s Gennaro and Varduhi Abrahamyan’s Orsini.  Theirs was a very physical, loving relationship, with a passionate kiss just before heading off to the party chez Negroni.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Remigio gave us a commanding central performance as Lucrezia.  Hers isn’t the largest voice to have essayed the role, and her bright soprano does appear to have a relatively limited palette of tone colours.  Still, she managed to bring some iciness to the tone when threatening Alfonso, finding a steely resolve that made it clear that she wasn’t to be messed with.  She dispatched the challenging coloratura with admirable accuracy, spitting out and savouring the text with a visceral sense of abandon.  Her limpid legato gave consistent pleasure throughout the evening.  Undoubtedly an imposing assumption from this admirable singer.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Xabier Anduaga.  Make a note of this gentleman’s name because if you don’t already know it, you will soon.  This youthful Basque tenor is a major talent.  The voice is undeniably handsome – a bright, well-placed tenor with an impeccable legato and remarkable clarity of diction.  But he has something else, an instinctive sense of musicianship, the kind that cannot be taught, that allows him to transform the notes on the page into sheer poetry.  Anduaga is able to pull the tone right back to a perfectly sustained pianissimo.  He’s also a highly engaging and energetic actor.  Of course, with time some passing intonation issues will be ironed out.  As a role debut, it was sensational.  As an announcement of a serious new talent, this was undeniable.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Marko Mimica brought his customary warm and velvety bass to the role of Alfonso.  The voice has such complex depth of tone and he added some sensitive embellishments to the line.  It sounded to my ears that it took Abrahamyan a little while to find her best form.  Her opening narration was somewhat bumpy in phrasing , although she did give us some tasteful dips down to a juicy chestiness.  She warmed up nicely and in her brindisi sang with assurance, the registers fully integrated from a shining top to a chocolatey bottom, turning the corners with ease.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

In the remainder of the cast, a special mention for Manuel Pierattelli’s oaky tenor as Liverotto, as well as Rocco Cavalluzzi’s youthful, inky bass as Gubetta.  The Piacenza chorus sang with lusty enthusiasm.  Frizza led a refined and congenial reading of the new critical edition by Roger Parker and Rosie Ward, with moderate tempi and soft-grained attack.  Compared with Jean-Luc Tingaud’s revelatory conducting of Ange de Nisida at this very festival last week, it must be admitted that I found Frizza’s conducting rather too relaxed.  This is a score that should crackle with electric drama, but Frizza’s reading felt too easy-going, focusing on beauty of sound rather than a livewire dramatic energy.  There were some interesting moments along the way – the ghostly pallor of the double basses as Lucrezia revealed her true identity to Gennaro was impressive.  The orchestra played confidently for him, their youth only intermittently apparent in some split horn notes and the odd patch of sour string intonation.  There was a notably characterful clarinet solo and a delightfully raucous stage banda made up of students from Bergamo’s conservatory named after Donizetti himself.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Overall, this was an evening that most definitely lived up to the standards of this wonderful festival, one that really does deserve to be on the itinerary of any lover of Italian opera.  The staging was fluent, had clearly been comprehensively rehearsed, and was never less that visually interesting.  What tonight made clear, as indeed did last week’s Ange de Nisida, is the intelligence of the festival’s casting.  On both occasions, we were given casting of imaginativeness and flair.  It also revealed to us tonight a major new bel canto tenor, one who has the potential to become a major star in the operatic firmament.

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