Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at the Munich Opera Festival

GermanyGermany  Donizetti, Lucrezia Borgia: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera, Paolo Arrivabeni (conductor). Munich National Theater. 25.7.2011 (JMI)

Production: Bavarian State Opera

Direction:Christof Loy
Sets: Henrik Ahr
Costumes: Barbara Drosihn
Lighting: Joachim Klein


Lucrezia Borgia: Edita Gruberova
Gennaro: Pavol Breslik
Don Alfonso: Franco Vassallo
Orsino: Silvia Tro Santafé

Production picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

Edita Gruberova sightings are common in Vienna, Zurich, and of course Munich, where she has carved out a niche as in-house goddess for herself, treated with adoration by her throng of worshipping fans. The program bill for this Munich production says “Lucrezia Borgia”, but it is Edita Gruberova people flock into the National Theater for.

It’s not the production by Christof Loy, in any case, which had its premiere in February 2009 and, though a critical success, never quite garnered the public’s favor. Mr. Loy tends to prefer provocation and minimalism in his work… in this case there is no provocation, but minimalism goes far. Too far I would say. The stage consists of a off-white wall on which is written L U C R E Z I A B O R G I A. Over the course of the opera the wall slides very, very slowly from right to left until it disappears altogether during the last act. Behind the wall there is nothing. Stage props are limited to several chairs and a table in act II, standing in for the palace of Alfonso d’Este. Costumes present a, frankly meaningless, random mixture of epochs. Gennaro and his friends appear in black suits and pants rolled up to their knees: a group of spoilt but violent teenagers. Duca Alfonso looks like a police commissioner. La Borgia appears in modern dress sometimes and t other times in period costume. There are touches of intimacy in Christof Loy’s work, and probably several profound insights, but on the surface of it-which I failed to penetrate-all there remained was a minimalist and boring production.

Ms. Gruberova usually brings her conductors along to accompany her. Often it is her husband, or else conductors chosen from among a select group of dependable lackeys. In Munich the selected conductor was Paolo Arrivabeni, whose performance was pure routine from a musical point of view, doing what he was paid to do by simply following the diva.

Reviewing my notes from Edita Gruberova’s debut as Lucrezia Borgia at Barcelona’s Liceu some 3 years ago I found my criticism then is still as true today: She makes her own version of the protagonist, as she tends to do with all the other characters she plays. With Mrs.Gruberova one always knows what will happen: great pianissimi, bright top notes, and her very personal style of singing. I have always admired her, but she has never moved me. Of course, the audience was at her feet and for a good reason. You simply don’t hear this way of singing anymore. Edita Gruberova is a living part of the opera history and people are right going to the theatre to pay tribute to one of the very great living stars

Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik, whose particular popularity in Munich was demonstrated by a sold-out Liederabend three days later, gave a sample of art with a Gennaro. His voice is attractive, he is an excellent singer, and he is a remarkable actor on stage. He didn’t get to seing the beautiful and most demanding Ivanov aria, though, without which the character of Gennaro loses much relevance.

Franco Vassallo’ Duca Alfonso was good, with his usual excellent high notes, but a voice lacking weight in the middle. For the role of Mafio Orsino I usually prefer a true contralto, but Silvia Tro Santafe did very well. The secondary characters, too, were very well covered. The reception for the four singers-Edita Gruberova ever at center-was triumphal, and lasted for a full 18 minutes with a few people steadfastly refusing to leave the house.

José MªIrurzun