Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Donizetti
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Lucrezia Borgia
PERFORMER: Edita Gruberova, Pavol Breslik, Franco Vassallo, Alice Coote; Bavarian State Opera & Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy; dir. Christof Loy (Munich, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 2072458 (NTSC system; DTS 5.1; 16:9 picture format)


It would be ungallant to recall how many birthdays Slovak soprano Edita Gruberova has enjoyed. Rather, reflect on the wonder of her singing such a taxing role as Lucrezia when most coloratura sopranos of her vintage have retired to give master classes, and then marvel at her conviction and her vocal skills. 

Not that Gruberova is much helped by Christof Loy’s Munich production which presents her as a sequence of Hollywood vamps and tramps.

So if she’s CelesteHolm with an orange bubble perm in the Prologue, in Act II she’s become Morticia from the Addams Family in a trailing silver wig who metamorphoses into Bette Davis in Baby Jane for the finale. In close-up Gruberova seems cruelly more Gennaro’s granny than his long lost mother.

However, Pavol Breslik as the son is almost everything you could hope for in a Donizetti tenor nowadays, although the singing honours really belong to Alice Coote’s mordant Orsini and Franco Vasallo as a particularly vicious Duke of Ferrara – every millimetre Lucrezia’s match in his villainy. Bertrand de Billy in the pit leaves us in no doubt that this is one of Donizetti’s finest works.


So if the ear is more beguiled than the eye, did this production work better on stage? Directed for video by the veteran Brian Large, the black wall at the back of the stage with a door for Lucrezia to come and go, Loy’s signature chairs shuffling about the action, and costumes that mix the modern and the antique induce a drowsy numbness. Which is certainly the best that can be said for the bonus documentary about Gruberova that accompanies this release. Christopher Cook