Lucrezia Borgia (opera)

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Lucrezia Borgia is a melodramatic opera in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after the play Lucrezia Borgia by Victor Hugo, in its turn after the legend of Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia Borgia was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan.

Melodramma is a 17th-century Italian term for a text to be set as an opera, or the opera itself. In the 19th-century, it was used in a much narrower sense by English writers to discuss developments in the early Italian libretto, e.g., Rigoletto and Un ballo in maschera. Characteristic are the influence of French bourgeois drama, female instead of male protagonists, and the practice of opening the action with a chorus.

Gaetano Donizetti 19th-century Italian opera composer

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was an Italian composer. Along with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto opera style during the first half of the nineteenth century. Donizetti's close association with the bel canto style was undoubtedly an influence on other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi.

Felice Romani Italian writer

Felice Romani was an Italian poet and scholar of literature and mythology who wrote many librettos for the opera composers Donizetti and Bellini. Romani was considered the finest Italian librettist between Metastasio and Boito.


Performance history

Therese Tietjens as Lucrezia Borgia Tietjens as Lucrezia Borgia.jpg
Thérèse Tietjens as Lucrezia Borgia

19th century

The first London production was at Her Majesty's Theatre on 6 June 1839 with Giulia Grisi and Mario. [1] When the opera was staged in Paris (Théâtre des Italiens) in 1840, Victor Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions within the domain of French copyright law. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed. [1]

Her Majestys Theatre theatre in London

Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre. In the early decades of the 20th century, Tree produced spectacular productions of Shakespeare and other classical works, and the theatre hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noël Coward and J. B. Priestley. Since the First World War, the wide stage has made the theatre suitable for large-scale musical productions, and the theatre has accordingly specialised in hosting musicals. The theatre has been home to record-setting musical theatre runs, notably the First World War sensation Chu Chin Chow and the current production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which has played continuously at Her Majesty's since 1986.

Giulia Grisi singer

Giulia Grisi was an Italian opera singer. She performed widely in Europe, the United States and South America and is widely considered to be one of the leading sopranos of the 19th century.

Giovanni Matteo Mario Italian opera singer

Giovanni Matteo De Candia, also known as Mario, was an Italian opera singer. The most celebrated tenor of his era, he was lionized by audiences in Paris and London. He was the partner of the opera singer Giulia Grisi.

The first English-language production was in London on 30 December 1843. The English tenor Sims Reeves was a noted Gennaro. Lucrezia was first presented in New Orleans on 27 April 1843 and then at New York's American Theatre on 11 May 1843 [1] and later at the Palmo's Opera House in 1847: with Giulia Grisi in 1854; and with Thérèse Tietjens and Brignoli in 1876. It was given at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, in 1882, and at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in 1904, with Enrico Caruso as Gennaro and Arturo Vigna conducting.

Sims Reeves British opera singer

John Sims Reeves, usually called simply Sims Reeves, was the foremost English operatic, oratorio and ballad tenor vocalist of the mid-Victorian era.

Palmos Opera House former theater in Manhattan, New York City

Palmo's Opera House was a 19th-century theatre in Manhattan, New York that was located on Chambers Street between Broadway and Centre Street. It was one of the earliest opera houses in New York before it was converted into one of the earliest Broadway theatres. The theatre was conceived by Ferdinand Palmo, an Italian immigrant and successful restaurateur in New York City. It was located inside the former Stoppani's Arcade Baths building. Modest alteration to the building was done in 1843 to convert the building into a theater.

Thérèse Tietjens singer

Thérèse Carolina Johanne Alexandra Tietjens was a leading opera and oratorio soprano. She made her career chiefly in London during the 1860s and 1870s, but her sequence of musical triumphs in the British capital was terminated by cancer.

Tietjens, a particularly famous 19th century Lucrezia, made her debut in the role at Hamburg in 1849. In later life she became very heavy, and collapsed on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre during her last performance, in this role, in 1877, and died soon afterwards.

Hamburg City in Germany

Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany with a population of over 1.8 million.

20th century and beyond

A famous performance of Lucrezia Borgia presented by the American Opera Society Ensemble in 1965 at Carnegie Hall with soprano Montserrat Caballé, who was making her American debut, was soon followed by a recording featuring Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Alfredo Kraus, and Ezio Flagello, conducted by Jonel Perlea, who also led the Carnegie Hall performance.

Carnegie Hall concert hall in New York City

Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States, located at 881 Seventh Avenue, occupying the east side of Seventh Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) =880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) =1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

Montserrat Caballé Spanish operatic soprano

María de Montserrat Viviana Concepción Caballé i FolchOIC OAXS OMFRG LH OMIR was a Spanish operatic soprano. She sang a wide variety of roles, but is best known as an exponent of the works of Verdi and of the bel canto repertoire, notably the works of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. She was noticed internationally when she stepped in for a performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in 1965, and then appeared at leading opera houses. Her voice was described as pure but powerful, with superb control of vocal shadings and exquisite pianissimo.

Lucrezia Borgia is often produced as a vehicle for a star soprano, including Leyla Gencer, Beverly Sills, Dame Joan Sutherland, Renée Fleming, Edita Gruberová and Sondra Radvanovsky.

Leyla Gencer Turkish soprano

Ayşe Leyla Gencer was a Turkish operatic soprano.

Beverly Sills opera soprano

Beverly Sills was an American operatic soprano whose peak career was between the 1950s and 1970s.

Joan Sutherland Australian soprano

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE was an Australian-born coloratura soprano noted for her contribution to the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 26 December 1833
(Conductor: Eugenio Cavallini)
Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara bass Luciano Mariani
Lucrezia Borgia soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande
Maffio Orsini contralto Marietta Brambilla
Gennaro, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Francesco Pedrazzi
Jeppo Liverotto, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Napoleone Marconi
Don Apostolo Gazella, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
bass Giuseppe Visanetti
Ascanio Petrucci, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
baritone Ismaele Guaita
Oloferno Vitellozzo, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Giuseppe Vaschetti
Rustighello, in the service of Don Alfonsotenor Ranieri Pochini
Gubetta, in service of Lucreziabass Domenico Spiaggi
Astolfo, in service of Lucreziatenor Francesco Petrazzoli
Gentlemen-at-arms, officers, and nobles of the Venetian Republic;
same, attached to court of Alfonso; ladies-in-waiting, Capuchin friars, etc.


Time: Early 16th century
Place: Venice and Ferrara


The Palazzo Grimani in Venice

Gennaro and his friends, including Orsini, celebrate on the brightly lit terrace, in front of which lies the Giudecca canal. The friends' conversation turns to Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, to whose house they will be travelling the next day, and to his wife, the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. On hearing Lucrezia's name, Orsini tells of how Gennaro and he, alone in a forest, were warned by a mysterious old man to beware her and the entire Borgia family, and that the two of them would die together (Nella fatal di Rimini). Professing his boredom with Orsini's tale Gennaro wanders off and falls asleep nearby. His friends are invited to rejoin the festivities, and he is left alone. A gondola appears and a masked woman steps onto the terrace. She hurries over to the sleeping Gennaro and observes him with affection. (Com'è bello! Quale incanto in quel volto onesto e altero!) She kisses his hand, he wakes and is instantly struck by her beauty. He expresses his love for her and sings of his childhood as an orphan brought up by fishermen. He adds that he loves dearly the mother he has never met. (Di pescatore ignobile esser figliuol credei.) The others return and instantly recognise her as Lucrezia Borgia, listing in turn the members of their families she has killed to Gennaro's horror.

Act 1


The Duke, believing Gennaro to be Lucrezia's lover, plots his murder with his servant Rustighello (Vieni: la mia vendetta è meditata e pronta.) Gennaro and his companions leave the house for a party and pass the Duke's palace with its large gilded coat of arms reading Borgia. Keen to show his contempt for the Borgia family, Gennaro removes the initial "B", leaving the obscene "Orgia" (orgy).

In the palace, Lucrezia is shown into the Duke's chamber. Having seen the defaced crest, she demands death for the perpetrator, not knowing that it is Gennaro. The Duke orders Gennaro to be brought before her and accuses him of staining the noble name of Borgia, a crime to which he readily confesses. Lucrezia, horrified, attempts to excuse the insult as a youthful prank, but Don Alfonso accuses Lucrezia of infidelity, having observed her meeting with Gennaro in Venice. In a scene full of drama and tension, she denies any impropriety, but he demands the prisoner's death and forces her to choose the manner of Gennaro's execution. Pretending to pardon him, the Duke offers Gennaro a glass of wine and he swallows it. After a stunning trio (Guai se ti sfugge un moto, Se ti tradisce un detto!) the Duke leaves and Lucrezia hurries to Gennaro, giving him an antidote to the poison the Duke has mixed with the wine. He drinks, and in a last duet, she implores him to flee the city and her husband. (Bevi e fuggi ... te'n prego, o Gennaro!)

Act 2

The palace of the Princess Negroni

Ignoring Lucrezia's advice, Gennaro attends a party at the palace, swearing never to be parted from his friend Orsini. Orsini leads the party in a brindisi or drinking song ("Il segreto per esser felici") and they drink. Lucrezia enters and announces that in revenge for their insults in Venice she has poisoned their wine and arranged five coffins for their bodies. She has hitherto believed that Gennaro fled Ferrara on her advice, and is thus dismayed when he steps forward and announces that she has poisoned a sixth. Orsini, Liverotto, Vitellozzo, Petrucci and Gazella fall dead. Gennaro seizes a dagger and attempts to kill Lucrezia, but she stops him by revealing that he is in fact her son. Once again she asks him to drink the antidote, but this time he refuses, choosing to die with his friends. In a final cabaletta ("Era desso il figlio mio"), Lucrezia mourns her son and expires.


The closing cabaletta "Era desso il figlio mio" was added by Donizetti upon insistence by renowned soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande, who created the role of Lucrezia Borgia. It is one of the most demanding arias in all the operatic repertoire, with trills and coloratura passages that demand extreme vocal agility. Donizetti later removed the aria because he believed it damaged the credibility of the ending. [2]


Maffio Orsini,
Don Alfonso)
Opera House and Orchestra
Label [3]
1965 Montserrat Caballé,
Alain Vanzo,
Jane Berbié,
Kostas Paskalis
Jonel Perlea,
American Opera Society orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, July)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: 1030815
1966 Leyla Gencer,
Giacomo Aragall,
Anna Maria Rota,
Mario Petri
Carlo Franci,
Teatro San Carlo di Napoli orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 29 January 1966)
CD: Hunt Productions
Cat: HUNTCD 544
1966 Montserrat Caballé,
Alfredo Kraus,
Shirley Verrett,
Ezio Flagello
Jonel Perlea,
RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Cat: RCAG 66422RG
1974Leyla Gencer,
José Carreras,
Tatiana Troyanos,
Matteo Manuguerra
Nicola Rescigno,
Dallas Civic Opera (Live)
CD: Melodram
Cat: 270109
1975Joan Sutherland,
John Brecknock,
Huguette Tourangeau,
Michael Devlin
Richard Bonynge,
Houston Symphony Orchestra and chorus (Live)
LP: MRF Records
1976Beverly Sills,
Henry Price,
Susanne Marsee,
Adib Fazah
Julius Rudel,
New York City Opera (Live)
CD: Opera Depot
Cat: 11295-2
1977Joan Sutherland,
Margreta Elkins,
Robert Allman,
Ron Stevens
Richard Bonynge,
Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra and Chorus of Australian Opera
DVD: Opus Arte "Faveo",
Cat: OAF 4026D
1978Joan Sutherland,
Giacomo Aragall,
Marilyn Horne,
Ingvar Wixell
Richard Bonynge,
National Philharmonic Orchestra and London Opera Chorus
CD: Decca
Cat: 421497
1979Leyla Gencer,
Alfredo Kraus,
Elena Zilio,
Bonaldo Giaiotti
Gabriele Ferro,
Teatro Comunale di Firenze orchestra and chorus (Live)
CD: Living Stage
Cat: LS1096
1980Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Anne Howells,
Stafford Dean
Richard Bonynge,
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden orchestra and chorus (Live)
DVD: Covent Garden Pioneer
Cat: B 12385-01
1989Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Martine Dupuy,
Michele Pertusi
Richard Bonynge,
Gran Teatro del Liceo orchestra and chorus
(Video recording of a performance in the Gran Teatro del Liceo, 31 May)
VHS Video Cassette: Lyric Distribution,
Cat: 1842 (incomplete) & 1882 (1990)
2007Dimitra Theodossiou,
Roberto De Biasio,
Nidia Palacios,
Enrico Giuseppe Iori
Tiziano Severini,
Orchestra and Chorus of Bergamo Musica Festival G. Donizetti (Live)
DVD: Naxos
Cat: 2.110264
2009Edita Gruberová,
Pavol Breslik,
Alice Coote,
Franco Vassallo

Bertrand de Billy
Bayerisches Staatsoper
(Recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, February)

DVD Medici Arts,
Cat: 2072458-1
2010Edita Gruberová,
José Bros,
Silvia Tro Santafé,
Franco Vassallo
Andriy Yurkevych
WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln
(Recording of a performance in the Philarmonie Köln, 4 June)
CD: Nightingale Classics AG.
Cat: NC 000100-2
2010 Mariella Devia,
Giuseppe Filianoti,
Mariana Pizzolato,
Alex Esposito
Marco Guidarini
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana
(Recording of a performance in Teatro delle Muse di Ancona, February
CD: Bongiovanni
Cat: GB 2560/62

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