Bland Borgia From Fleming

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Love her or hate her, there’s no way Renée Fleming is going to make you happy in the role of Lucrezia Borgia. The voice and approach are all wrong for the character. Fleming sings suavely and always has: that’s why people love her. In some long, cantilena sections (“Com’e bello”) the creamy tone itself is lovely, her legato line as smooth as silk; but the voice has gotten smaller and the coloratura less facile. More importantly, despite costume and wig changes that make her seem interesting (tightly wound bun early on; spiky blond, like Gennaro’s, for the last scene), her placidity turns the role into something mushy. She drags out soft phrases for their own sake rather than for the musical or dramatic line. In fact, she seems bored—or lost—most of the time. This opera does not play itself; it needs a leading lady with both ferocity and pathos. Fleming ambles through the role. More’s the pity since the rest of the cast is excellent.

Young tenor Michael Fabiano cuts a dashing figure as Gennaro, and he acts and sings with commitment. His tone is handsome and he is equally at home with exclamatory as well as bel canto phrases. Elizabeth De Shong’s diminutive Orsini is grand of vocal stature; her dark-hued mezzo, vocal agility, and swagger enliven every scene she is in. Vitalij Kowaljow’s wicked Don Alfonso is exciting in a snarling, under-composed role. The rest of the cast—Gennaro’s pals—are very good as well.

The production hardly helps. John Pascoe designed and directed. Dark, claustrophobic walls surround the characters and the dress is peculiarly Renaisssance-costume-party, with lots of leather and gold and hints of armor. There are some nice touches in lighting Lucrezia that emphasize her loneliness and isolation, but you have to be acutely tuned in to spot them while otherwise ignoring the stand-and-deliver acting. In the third act, we suddenly discover that Gennaro and his best pal, Orsini, are hot for one another. A late-in-the-game distraction rather than a character development.

Riccardo Frizza does his best in the pit to generate excitement, but with a lead soprano who seems afraid of the part, it does not click. Ensemble work is tight and admirable. You’d probably be better off with the 1980 Sutherland/Kraus DVD, although the video and audio quality are not up to today’s standards; or, if you can tolerate Christoph Loy’s meaningless, updated production, Edita Gruberova throws herself into the part on EuroArts. Or if you must have Fleming (or can overlook her)…



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Sutherland (Kultur), Gruberova (Euroarts)


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