Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucrezia Borgia with Elena Mosuc and Charles Castronovo [the best belcanto duo in business?!]

Lucrezia Borgia, Cirque Royal in Brussels, March 3rd 2013

Director ..... Guy Joosten
Conductor ..... Julian Reynolds

Don Alfonso ..... Paul Gay
Donna Lucrezia Borgia ..... Elena Mosuc
Gennaro ..... Charles Castronovo
Maffio Orsini ..... Silvia Tro Santafé
Jeppo Liverotto ..... Roberto Covatta
Don Apostolo Gazella ..... Tijl Faveyts
Ascanio Petrucci ..... Jean-Luc Ballestra
Gubetta ..... Jean Teitgen
Rustighello ..... Alexander Kravets
Astolfo ..... Justin Hopkins
Oloferno Vitellozzo ..... Stefan Cifolelli
Usciere ..... Alain-Pierre Wingelinckx
Un coppiere ..... Gerard Lavalle

Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie

Why is this show worth watching?

  • The first obvious reason is that everything coming from the house run by Peter de Caluwe is very much worth watching: you can be sure that it will not be trivial, `lazy' nor irrelevant.

  • Of all operas by Donizetti, I believe the libretto of Lucrezia Borgia is the least incongruous: its plot is plausible (despite the final twist), the action is not totally suspended, and its components are relatively well sewn up together.  

  • The excellent cast is lead by a superb Elena Mosuc in the title role [besides Krassimira Stoyanova she is the best belcanto singer I was able to listen to in my long life]. Her voice is brilliantly matched by that of Charles Castronovo who possess that divine musicality -- so important in the belcanto repertoire-- and they both shine 1000 colors in this opera.  I know that no one should be surprised to see Paul Gay being excellent in an opera production, but since this  repertoire is not the one you would normally expect him to be great in, the result is positively... well...  surprising. Silvia Tro Santafé provides a luxurious support in the role of Orsini and the other smaller roles are very well sung too, making the whole experience truly enjoyable. I am not a belcanto fan but when belcanto is this well  played and this well sung I love it!

  • Huge props should be given to  Julian Reynolds who owns a magic formula on how to conduct the orchestra in this repertoire. Rare are conductors who manage to get a broad sound from the orchestra while keeping the strings alert, the brass section lively -- yet well tamed -- and not sounding monotenous. More impressive is the fact that the orchestra is delicately toned to support singers, not to drawn them but instead to give them space to shine. A reason more for this successful synchronization of voices with the orchestra is that the orchestra was placed next to (on!) the stage and not in the pit [show took place at the Cirque Royal and not La Monnaie theater]

  • Last belcanto production staged at La Monnaie was also directed by Guy Joosten. It was Lucia di Lammermoor which I found fascinating at the time, both for its ground idea and for Elena Mosuc singing Lucia in an exemplary belcanto style [event if that style might sound a bit old fashioned today] while being scenically totally involved in the character without the usual borderline grotesqueness in acting. 

  • The story of this production of Lucrezia Borgia is transposed to "our time". Gennaro is a young rebellious guy, a member of the gang of anarchists who resemble the gang from Kubrik's A Clockwork Orange. He [Gennaro] falls in love with Lucrezia without knowing who she is. The love story becomes impossible as Elena is married to a wealthy Don Alfonso. That sets the double tension in the storyline: one is that of the love triangle, and the other is the extreme social antagonism between Gennaro and Alfonso. Gennaro's attraction to Lucrezia becomes mixed with his rebellious attitude to challenge authority. Don Alfonso instead is harsh: he wants to see the young insolent man punished, and this desire for killing Gennaro is boosted by his jealousy as he realizes that his wife is attracted to the young rebellious man.  

  • Lucrezia is not portrayed as a historical figure: her bad reputation comes from her place in the social pyramid. The society they live in is a society of deep social inequalities, plagued by  unrests [which is why it is relatively easy to find a parallel with our time]. At first Lucrezia looks like Cruella De Vil; her severity is ambiguous [Is it the way she is or she is cruel just to please her husband?], but she eventually shows her softer, emotional side when she feels strangely attracted to Gennaro and tries several times to  help him save his life. 

  • To further depict the general state of fear, oppression and hypocrisy in the society the production team use masks in most (all?!) of the mass scene. To emphasize the decadent character of the wealthy, in the second act there are a few naked scenes (only boobs!) which apparently disturbed the sensitive souls in the crowd including our dear Nagel [whose review is otherwise excellent  ;)]   

  • I loved the staging of denouement in which Castronovo is absolutely superb, and Elena ends it with a knockout rendition of the final cabaletta Era desso il figlio mio.

  • The actors are guided with precision and they all incarnate their respective characters to the best of their abilities (to the extent of what is possible in a typical Donizetti opera). The mass scenes are well done with the use of masks, which is always a clever way to depict the general state of fear, oppression and hypocrisy in the society.  In the configuration of a rather atypical proximity of the orchestra to the stage and to the crowd, the cabaresque looking set was a smart and efficient choice made by Johannes Leiacker. 

  •  Even though the shows produced by La Monnaie/De Munt are always much better when seen at the theater, the webstream is a good approximation and I'd like to recommend you to watch this Lucrezia Borgia on the website of La Monnaie/De Munt. The link is here and the free viewing is available until 04/01/2013.

Otherwise you can enjoy watching the following five videos I found on YT [©coloraturafan] :

The first one is with Charles Castronovo at his absolute best

This one is where Paul Gay excels (Charles and Elena are terrific too)...

The final scene (grandissimo Castronovo) concluded with Elena singing her cabaletta:


  1. I don't care about boobs at all. Bring them on, if you like. But I don't think the shock tactics in this or the previous two productions I saw in Brussels worked.

  2. The ambiguity you note in Warlikowski's Rake's Progress, which I just saw in Berlin, seems way more effective to me.

  3. I thought that Joosten's staging was apalling. Musically quite good, Mosuc was great I thought, I mean, how old is she...? 200? and still singing that way....not a Devia, but great great singing.