After the concert version last year in Salzburg, Juan Diego Flórez takes the role of Gennaro in a staged version of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. Well, “staged” may be a big word here: the staging and direction was basically non-existent. I had immensely enjoyed Christof Loy’s Ariodante, but his Lucrezia was worse than bad: it was irritating. Once again, the musical experience was not ruined by the production, so I guess we must enjoy the silver lining.
There was nothing on stage. I mean NOTHING. A wall at the back of the stage, with the illuminated lettering “LUCREZIA BORGIA” on it. The usual school/office chairs that people occasionally sat on, or bumped into, and that’s it, for the whole performance. The direction was mostly non- existent, except for when it was stupid. Everybody was dressed in modern suits and ties, Gennaro and his friends with pants rolled up, at the beginning, then at a certain point they roll them down, for no reason. Lucrezia has a medieval looking gown in the Prologue, with a mink coat over it, then a black business pants suit in the first act, and a long black gown with a hideous white wig in the last act. When Don Alfonso, her husband, sings his big revenge aria, he overacts, bullying his aid Rustichello, who is shining his shoes. When the spotlight moves away from him, he runs to it, then the spotlight moves again, in a dance that was honestly funny (and very well acted by Franco Vassallo), but it’s not clear to me why Don Alfonso should be turned into a joke.
Lucrezia was Edita Gruberova, who is now 70 years old. Her voice has lost the middle register almost completely (and it never had a low register to begin with). So, every time the line goes lower than (I would guess) a C, she starts talking and acting her way through. But the high register is still unbelievable, at this age. Yes, of course it has lost brilliance and shine, but she had so much of it in her high notes, that they are still beautiful. And she can still run her coloratura roulades with more than acceptable speed. It’s a bit of a circus performance, but man, it’s exciting! She shot her super-high notes with incredible confidence, even the high E flat at the end, which was perfectly in tune, even if it didn’t vibrate once, it was like the whistle of a train. If I must be objective, she should really have retired by now. But I am extremely fond of her, and I find her obvious faults almost endearing. Her commitment to the role is admirable and moving. I wish I’m going to have her stamina at her age. So, you haters keep your comments to yourselves.
Juan Diego Flórez confirmed the impression he gave last year in Salzburg. He is perfect for this role, and for this music in general. His voice conveys all the vigor and the excitement of a not-so-smart young man in love. His unsurpassed musicality and elegance are evident in every musical phrase, and his high notes shake the theatre. He and Gruberova went for the high note in unison both at the end of the Prologue and of Act 1, which is kind of tacky, but who’s going to stop them? Usually the big tenor aria at the beginning of the second act is cut, but of course, Big Star Flórez got to sing it, and what a wonderful job he did!! The aria in itself is not the most beautiful piece of music Donizetti ever wrote, and it’s very easy to make it sound boring, but Flórez was great in it. Once again, I’m left hoping that JDF will dive deeper into this repertoire, but no sir. He’s studying Massenet, God bless him.
Maffio Orsini is one of my favorite characters in the whole operatic repertoire, and mezzo soprano Teresa Iervolino was fabulous! I already heard her in this role in Salzburg, and I also heard her as Lucia in La gazza ladra at La Scala. Last night the great opinion I already had of her was confirmed and gained substance. Her voice is round and very smooth, very beautiful also on the lower end, with a uniform, gigantic projection on the whole range. Her studies, and previous experiences give her great confidence in the belcanto repertoire: her style is perfect, and her singing exudes elegance. And she’s not even 30 years old!! In the backstage, after the performance, she was exhilarated, her pure joy of such a successful debut in such an important opera house was positively contagious. Can’t wait to hear her in every single role ever written for a mezzo/alto.
Franco Vassallo was Don Alfonso, Lucrezia’s husband, already heard in Un ballo in maschera a couple of years ago. His voice is extremely Italian, very natural; his performance was solid. The big aria in the first act, where he was chasing the spotlight, was delivered with the right intent and was one of the highlights of the performance. His portrayal of the mean-spirited, vengeful ruler was great; during the duet with Gruberova he managed to whisper and hiss, while still singing with perfect support.
Gennaro’s friends were a bit of a mixed bag: some had voices which lacked presence, others seemed more experienced and enjoyable. All in all, they were a reasonable bunch. The orchestra was somewhat a disappointment: conductor Friedrich Haider did not go beyond a correct accompaniment of the singers, and this, by itself, is not a capital crime, in Donizetti. But the orchestra was often way too loud, drowning the singers, especially during the stretta finale (final rush) at the end of the act. The pit is high, in Munich, and the orchestra is good, but early 800 music needs a more nuanced and delicate touch.
At the end of the performance I managed to sneak into the backstage (I won’t betray who the responsible is) and I had a chance to fangirl with everybody!! I have great pics with Iervolino, Flórez and Gruby, it was very exciting!