Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Donizetti
LABELS: EuroArts DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
WORKS: Lucrezia Borgia
PERFORMER: Renee Fleming; Michael Fabiano; Elizabeth DeShong; Vitalij Kowaljow; San Francisco Opera/Riccaro Frizza; dir. John Pascoe
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2059648; Blu-ray: 2059644

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From San Francisco comes the fourth Lucrezia Borgia on DVD. The work is a high-Romantic drama of flashing contrasts – of light moments set against dark, comedy against melodrama, complex against straightforward emotion, high female voices against lower male ones – and one heavily dependent for success on its title role. Written for a soprano near the close of her career, Lucrezia demands musical sophistication and fine-grained cantilena, and with it the ability to convey a fascinatingly complex personality glittering with menace as well as melting with maternal tenderness.

This needs underlining, because whether you enjoy this latest issue more than those previous starring Joan Sutherland, Dimitra Theodossiou and Edita Gruberová depends crucially on whether you’re a paid-up fan of Renée Fleming, for whom in 2011 the show was mounted, or whether like me you find her package of hostessy gesturing and skilfully manicured vocalisation hard to tolerate. Her stage deportment and the kitsch of John Pascoe’s 1950s-Hollywood designs and staging seem all too well matched, though for Donizetti’s wonderful third act, its mood and atmosphere suddenly darkening midway, she at last produces a more direct, straightforward mode of expressive delivery.

Elsewhere there are strengths. Under Riccardo Frizza’s expert baton the large ensemble is confident and tautly controlled. The male leads offer vivid characterisations – the excellently stylish, supple US tenor Michael Fabiano and the commanding Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow, heavy-voiced but immensely powerful as Lucrezia’s jealous husband Alfonso d’Este. And in the brilliantly devised mezzo trousers role Elizabeth DeShong scores several bull’s-eyes. The singer interviews on the second disc offer more meat than is often the case. But the make-or-break issue remains the prima donna.

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Max Loppert