MIKE WHEELER is
delighted to be surprised by
Donizetti's 'Lucrezia Borgia'
'The Borgias are having an orgy; there's a Borgia orgy tonight' sang Hermione Gingold in one of her best-known revue numbers. Donizetti's opera may not actually run to a full-on orgy, but this is certainly no vicarage tea-party.
My only previous encounter with the work left me anticipating the Buxton Festival production (Buxton Opera House, Buxton, UK, 10 July 2009) with less than whole-hearted enthusiasm, but I have rarely had my view of a piece so thoroughly shaken up. Andrew Greenwood's conducting and Stephen Metcalf's staging invested the work with pace and real dramatic tension, and actually made this preposterous set of characters believable.
The twentieth-century Mafia setting works as compellingly here as it did in Jonathan Miller's famous Rigoletto for English National Opera. The moveable doors and pillars of Francis O'Connor's set offer plenty of spaces for hiding and spying, of which there is a lot going on. The back of the stage is just a black void, which has its own kind of menacing presence.
Mary Plazas is outstanding in the different facets of the title role, conveying just what it takes her to survive as an isolated woman in a relentlessly male world. A throat infection on the first night did not get in the way of some glorious singing right across the huge range she has to cover.
American tenor John Bellemer, making his UK début, gives Gennaro a finely-judged mixture of youthful heroism and bewilderment at finding himself in love with a strange woman who turns out to be his mother. In the trouser role of Gennaro's friend Orsini, Bulgarian mezzo Miroslava Yordanova projects a convincingly masculine air, and sings her Act 2 drinking song with panache. As Lucrezia's husband Duke Alfonso, David Soar exercises his authority with a calm self-possession that chillingly counterpoints Lucrezia's increasing desperation.
A grippingly-staged account of an opera I was delighted to be surprised by.
Copyright © 16 July 2009
Further performances of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at Buxton Opera House (buxtonoperahouse.org.uk) are scheduled for 18, 21, 25 and 28 July 2009.
BUXTON OPERA HOUSE