This production dates from the time that the La Scala opera company had relocated to the Archimboldo Theatre while La Scala was being rebuilt. If you were going to a live performance you would want to go to La Scala but I have seen several of these productions that were filmed at the Archimboldo and they are all visually spectacular, with the company benefiting from the more modern facilities and larger staging.
This production opens with a sensational tableau of bishops which quickly gives way to a scene of debauchery. It reminds me of the oft-made comparison between opera and the Catholic church very large men in elaborate costumes singing in a language that no-one understands. However the opera functions most effectively at the very centre of the Italian psyche, the relationship between a mother and her son. Donizetti and his librettist Felice Romani shamelessly milk this relationship. Gennaro, a soldier of fortune, is strangely drawn to an older woman who keeps on helping him out of tight spots. He does not realise that this woman, Lucrezia Borgia, is his mother. I loved the scene where Gennaro confesses his attraction to La Borgia and goes on to say that there is only one person more dear to him the mother that he has never known. There is not a dry eye in the house.
The performances are of the high standard that you expect of La Scala. Mirella Devia and Marcelo Álvarez as evil mother and heroic son are very effective, particularly during their extended death scene together after Lucrezia has accidentally given him a lethal dose during an orgy of mass poisoning. Michele Pertusi as Lucrezia's husband Alfonso is evil personified in his metal gauntlets, looking rather like Edward Scissorhands. The scene between Lucrezia and Alfonso really fizzes.
This opera only has room for one female character so Donizetti does his usual trick of making Orsini, Gennaro's friend, a trouser role. I seem to end many of my La Scala reviews by saying that the Mezzo Daniela Barcellona is absolutely sensational. The highlight of this production, for me, is Barcellona's duet with Álvarez. But that is just one highlight in a rip-roaring two hours of brilliant music and blood-curdling drama.
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