Spain Donizetti, Lucrezia Borgia: Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra and Chorus / Fabio Biondi (conductor), Palau de les Arts, Valencia, 26.3.2017. (JMI)
Lucrezia Borgia – Mariella Devia
Gennaro – William Davenport
Duca Alfonso – Marco Mimica
Mafio Orsini – Silvia Tro Santafé
Director – Emilio Sagi
Sets – Llorenç Corbella
Costumes – Pepa Ojanguren
Lighting – Eduardo Bravo
This is the first time that Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts has mounted this Donizetti opera, and part of the reason must be the fact that the lead character requires an exceptional soprano, one able to handle the heavy demands of the role. Only a few singers have risen to the challenge of Lucrezia Borgia in the past 50 years: for any opera lover, the names of Leila Gencer or Montserrat Caballé come to mind. The opera is seldom performed, although this is the second time in recent months in Spain: Bilbao opened the season with Elena Moșuc as Lucrezia. Now it’s Valencia’s turn, and they’ve built a production around Mariella Devia. There’s no doubt that Moșuc and Devia are two excellent bel canto singers, with great vocal technique. But their ability to meet the demands of the character of Lucrezia Borgia may be much more debatable: neither Elena Moșuc nor Mariella Devia have the voices of Gencer or Caballé.
This new staging by Emilio Sagi is an elegant one, with moving panels that allow for rapid scene changes and wide spaces in the center for plot developments. The costumes are fairly timeless but not particularly attractive and always in dark tones, except for the red dress that the protagonist wears in the final scene. However, the aesthetics worked better here than the stage direction, which fell rather short, and in particular in the case of Gennaro.
Fabio Biondi, one of the two music directors of the Palau de les Arts, is known in the opera world for his conducting of Baroque operas with his orchestra, Europa Galante. I was therefore surprised to see him announced as the conductor for Lucrezia Borgia, and was disappointed in the results. A different kind of conducting is required to give life to the plot: Biondi did not do much more than accompany the singers which resulted in a rather flat, even boring, reading. The orchestra performed well, but it’s not the group one remembers from a few years ago. The chorus, as always, was correct.
There’s no doubt that the main reason for programming Lucrezia Borgia in Valencia has been the presence of Mariella Devia in the leading role. She is one of the finest interpreters of bel canto, and at 68 is in great vocal shape. As far as technique is concerned, she’s one of the best singers today and has recently been handling a heavier repertoire than in past years. Her singing here was impeccable, despite some less attractive notes at the top of the tessitura. But whether or not Mariella Devia’s voice is suited to part of Lucrezia Borgia is another question. The character requires a middle range that Mariella Devia does not have, and her voice is much lighter than those of Gencer or Caballé. That may not be important to some, but for me it is.
The role of Gennaro requires a lyric tenor, whose importance in the opera depends upon whether he sings the famous Ivanov aria that opens the second act. American tenor William Davenport avoided it. He’s a rather light tenor with a small, not especially attractive, voice.
Croatian bass-baritone Marco Mimica once again sang the part of Duca Alfonso d’Este, as he did in Bilbao last October, and my feelings haven’t changed. His voice has more than enough amplitude, but the biggest problem is the excessive monotony in his singing. He always sang forte with open sounds and very little attention to nuance.
Mafio Orsini was sung by mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafé, and she gave a faultless performance, in terms both of singing and acting.
As for the secondary characters, they were covered by members of the Perfection Center Plácido Domingo, as is usually the case with operas at the Palau de les Arts. Gennaro’s friends were played by Fabián Lara (Liverotto), Alejandro López (Gazella), Simone Alberti (Petrucci) and Andrés Sulbarán (Vitellozzo). Lucrezia Borgia’s servants were sung by tenor Andrea Pellegrini (Gubetta) and the sonorous bass Michael Borth (Astolfo). Finally, the part of Rustighello, the most important of them all, was well interpreted by tenor Moisés Marin.
José M. Irurzun