Lucrezia Borgia – Salzburger Festspiele

I come from a 3-day intense Salzburg Festival expedition, it was absolutely exhilarating. The first show we saw was a concert performance of Lucrezia Borgia, by Donizetti, where my beloved Juan Diego Flórez had his debut as Gennaro. I love opera in concert, as my readers may already know, because I hate most productions in the world today. In concert there are no distractions, and you can really concentrate on the music and the singers, instead of spending your time wondering why the hero is in an astronaut suit, and there is a flock of sheep on stage.

Juan Diego Flórez

But, alas, this non-production did manage to annoy me anyway. All the duets (ALL of them) were sung with one singer on one side of the conductor, and the other on the other side. OK, it’s a concert performance, but if the two singers are not standing together, and cannot look at each other at all, it does detract from the performance, because they can’t show any kind of chemistry. In the first act trio it was almost ridiculous: Alfonso and Lucrezia are whispering to each other in a menacing way while talking loudly to Gennaro, of course they should stand together! Instead Abdrazakov and Flórez  were on one side, and Stoyanova on the other. Alfonso was whispering to Lucrezia across the conductor’s podium. I don’t mean to say that every concert MUST be a semi-staged performance, but this is just stupid.

Stoyanova and Flórez smile at each other from the distance.

Let’s start by saying that this music fits Flórez’ voice like a glove: his belcanto technique is perfectly suited to early xix century Italian opera, He was magnificent. The voice has a fullness which was perhaps missing in his younger years, and his elegance and sense of phrasing are only getting better. The perfect way he manages to close and shape every single phrase is a wonder. He may have lost some super-high notes, but he nailed a high C-sharp which took down the house, it was bright, resonant and perfect. His voice is as agile and exciting as ever. I really hope he will explore more of this repertoire, Bellini, Donizetti, and Mozart also. I am so fed up with that French Romantic bullshit.

Lucrezia was Krassimira Stoyanova, also at her debut. Her voice is one of the most beautiful around, these days, the color is velvety and round, bright on top, strong and perfectly supported also in the middle register. Her legato is magic, it’s a single flow of uninterrupted beauty. Her legato technique becomes almost a hindrance: her voice is agile, but the coloratura never has the brilliance, the machine-gun quality one usually associates with this repertoire. And, of course, she does not have super-high notes (above high C). These things make her “unexciting” to some listeners. I’m not one of them. I find the beauty of her voice absolutely stunning, and the way she works around these “flaws” and manages to deliver everything with such artistry is marvelous. Yes, it’s true, hearing the final cabaletta without the high E flat just feels a bit wrong, but if one wanted super-high notes, there was still Flórez in the house!

Teresa Iervolino, Marco Armiliato, Krassimira Stoyanova, Juan Diego Flórez and Ildar Abdrazakov

The Mozarteumorchester Salzburg was conducted by Marco Armiliato, who did a very good job. At times they were a bit too loud and tended to drown the singers a bit, but they all had such amazing projection that it wasn’t really a problem. The execution was not exactly “light”, they treaded a bit heavily, but overall I enjoyed their reading: it was powerful and engaging.

Maffio Orsini, one of the best characters written in Italian opera, was the young Italian singer Teresa Iervolino, already heard in La gazza ladra at La Scala this year. Her voice is dark and powerful, with perfect placement and a smooth, flawless passaggio to the head voice. The high notes are confident and bright, and she gave a very convincing interpretation of Gennaro’s young friend. On the opera fashion side, she had a goth dress and the ugliest shoes I have seen on Italian female feet ever. The elegance of her musical delivery deserved better elegance in her choices of clothing.


Ildar Abdrazakov was Alfonso d’Este, Lucrezia’s husband. I have heard him several times now, and he gets only better! His voice is extremely dark, but he never indulges in barking and roaring, like many basses do in order to sound evil and menacing. He manages to sound terrifying with a perfectly supported and elegant voice, helped by quite an impressive stage presence, I must add. He looks the part. Any part.

The supporting roles were all singers I never heard, many of them young, but all up to the task. Their contribution in the ensembles was very enjoyable, featuring precision and voices suited to the parts.

I have to comment on the public at the Großes Festspielhaus (and also at the Haus für Mozart for Ariodante): it was absolutely great. Very little coughing, no applause out of place, no snoring from the nappers, and no unwrapping candies for 7 minutes during a piano passage. Well done Salzburg!


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