Gaetano Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia), Michael Fabiano (Gennaro), Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), Vitalij Kowaljow (Duke Alfonso), Austin Kness (Apostolo Gazella), Ao Li (Ascanio Petrucci), Christopher Jackson (Jeppo), Brian Jagde (Oloferno), Igor Vieira (Gubetta) Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello), Ryan Kuster (Astolfo), San Francisco Opera Ballet, San Francisco Opera Chorus, Ian Robertson (Chorus Master), San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Riccardo Frizza (Conductor), John Pascoe (Stage Director and Production Designer), Frank Zamacona (Video Director)
Recorded live at San Francisco Opera (September-October 2011) – 127’
EuroArts Music International # 2059648 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English, German, French and Italian – Subtitles in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese and Arabic
Soprano Renée Fleming may have been the marquee draw at San Francisco Opera’s production of Lucrezia Borgia two years ago, but since then her co-star, who plays Gennaro (her secret son) is tenor Michael Fabiano, who is a full-throated opera star now. He just had his triumphant Kennedy Center recital and has been dubbed by the Washington Post, the “Marlon Brando” of opera.
Fabiano was a mild-mannered resident at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, but he has since become a ‘gym rat.’ In Lucrezia he’s not only buff, he also shows what an actor he’s become, giving Gennaro a noble intensity without over doing it. Fabiano continues to score as one of the most distinctive and gifted tenors in The United States...a match for Fleming, both with fluid passaggio technique, very much at play in this opera. Fleming brings so much to Donizetti bel canto, and she runs away with this tyrannical empress with a full set of emotions only for her son. Director John Pascoe italicizes the improbable melodrama.
Gennaro first meets Lucrezia at a Venetian masquerade ball, improbably, as he slumbers on stony steps and wakes to her maternal hovering over him. He expresses his love for her, but admits there is one he loves more, his mother, carrying her parting letter, though they have never met. Even with an age disparity, Gennaro is instantly smitten. Pascoe, if not librettist Felice Romani, let any Oedipal implications hang in the air, but too much else is happening to explain. Soon enough Lucrezia is exposed at the ball as the despised and feared tyrant of the house of Borgia.
Elizabeth DeShong is de facto contra-tenor as Gennaro’s soldier friend, Maffio, but they could easily be mistaken for lovers, with their kisses and embraces or at least in a heavy ‘bro-mance.’ Whatever their relationship, DeShong and Fabiano have potent vocal chemistry. Departing from the bel canto style of singing is dark-voiced bass-baritone Vitalij Kowaljow in a dramatically villainous turn as Lucrezia’s husband, Alfonso, who thinks Gennaro is Lucrezia’s secret lover. Tenor Daniel Montenegro is equally compelling as Rustighello, Alfonso’s scheming aide.
When Orsini and Gennaro deface the Borgia crest in the square to show off in front of their comrades, Gennaro is presently arrested. Fleming has a field day, technically powerful and witty, not shying away from the vampy aspects of the role. At her castle gates, in lame and chiffon empress lingerie, Lucrezia flounces through the gates in disarray singing to the Duke “Desire for revenge brings me to you.” Lucrezia thinks Orsini was responsible for insulting her and demands that he be put to death, but Gennaro has already been nabbed by Alfonso’s guard and is in the dungeon. He doesn’t know whether to trust this woman or not, and Fleming and Fabiano make this tricky scene vocally thrilling and believable with lyrical precision pacing by conductor Ricardo Frizza.
John Pasco’s stage direction smartly italicizes the melodrama. Pascoe’s production designs keep giving especially on hi-definition DVD. Stony battlements cast film noir dark shadows over the Venetian piazza steps that are almost a runway for droll black-leather, gold and silvery Satyricon couture. Smart, unfussy camera work keeps a steady distance from the singers in order to give them and the audience breathing room.