Opera Scotland

Lucrezia Borgia

Music

Gaetano Donizetti (born Bergamo, 29 November 1797; died Bergamo, 8 April 1848)

Text

Felice Romani.

Source

French tragedy Lucrèce Borgia (1833) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885).

 

Premières

First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 26 December 1833.

First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre), 6 June 1839.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 6 September 1849.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Donizetti came from a poor background but his musical talent was recognised early. While Rossini was still active, until 1829, Donizetti maintained a busy career touring Italy as a jobbing opera composer. His first international success came in 1830 with Anna Bolena, by which time he had composed nearly half his output of around seventy works. His operas were mostly romantic tragedies, and Lucrezia Borgia followed quite soon after Bolena. The operatic version was so successful that Hugo’s drama has never really recovered. It is a darkly dramatic work, with musical forestastes of Rigoletto (appropriate for Hugo), which held the stage throughout the nineteenth century. After a lull, it was revived in the sixties for Leyla Gencer and Montserrat Caballé – it would surely have been an ideal part for Callas. The trouser role of Maffio Orsini is important, and his famous Brindisi in the final scene was recorded by famous contraltos including Clara Butt and Ernestine Schumann-Heink when the opera itself had fallen into neglect. In Britain, it was revived at Covent Garden for Joan Sutherland (1980) and has more recently been successfully produced at Buxton (and with perhaps less acclaim) at ENO.

 

Main Characters

Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara (bass)

Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, his wife (soprano)

Gennaro, her son, brought up in secret (tenor)

Maffio Orsini, Gennaro’s friend (mezzo-soprano)

 

Plot Summary

Alfonso suspects that his wife has been having an affair with Gennaro. He is unaware that Gennaro is in fact Lucrezia’s son, a fact of which Gennaro is himself ignorant. He is a member of a faction that hates the Borgias because of the family’s history of corruption. When these young men are arrested, Lucrezia arranges Gennaro’s escape. She then takes her revenge on her enemies, including Orsini, by arranging a party at which they are all poisoned. Too late, she discovers her son among the victims, and Gennaro refuses any antidote she offers. As he dies, she collapses in despair.

The Cast

Don Alfonso d'Este
 Duke of Ferrara, Lucrezia's husband
Don Apostolo Gazella
 friend of Gennaro
Donna Lucrezia Borgia
 
Gennaro
 Lucrezia's son, raised in secret
Gubetta
 secret agent to Lucrezia Borgia
Maffio Orsini
 friend of Gennaro
Rustighello
 servant to Duke Alfonso

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