Mike Figgis makes his operatic directorial debut with Donizetti’s seldom performed opera about the notorious Renaissance family. His movie-making background manifests itself in a film that alternates with the scenes and puts Lucrezia’s vile actions into context. This sumptuous piece, while feeling intrinsically Italian, blends imagery from Raphael, Velázquez and Francis Bacon to cross time boundaries and create something with universal resonance.
But the film feels entirely separate from the opera’s scenes, and if only Figgis had put as much effort into the staging. The chorus stand still on the Spartan set and, although there are occasional inspired moves, too often it feels as if Figgis doesn’t know what to do with the work.
The performances are strong enough. In the title role Claire Rutter’s voice is clean, precise and demonstrates brilliant control in the upper register as her strong vibrato is used sparingly. As her husband, the Duke, Alastair Miles’ bass is dark, and his gestures sturdy. As Orsini, Elizabeth DeShong’s voice is expressive, full of depth and yet capable of rising to ethereal heights. Michael Fabiano’s Gennaro is possessed of a wondrously light, supple tenor instrument, and if occasionally it loses some of its pleasing tone when at full pelt this remains a minor criticism.
More worrying is the fact that while the singers act well as individuals, their interaction is often insufficiently charged, and against the black stage they can feel like isolated figures. This is a problem because reconciling Donizetti’s joyous score with the macabre subject matter requires the cast to demonstrate either total pain and despair, or infinite panache to heighten the irony. Paul Daniel’s otherwise splendid conducting must also shoulder some of the responsibility because Opera Holland Park’s Roberto Devereux proved that it is possible to reconcile the two elements in another of Donizetti’s enigmatic works.
We would still recommend a trip to Lucrezia Borgia because the piece is so rarely performed, but for its first professional production in London for thirty years we would have hoped for something a notch up on this.
Until 3 March (nine performances). Tickets: 0871 911 0200 or from the ENO website.
Photo: Alastair Miles as Duke Alfonso and Claire Rutter as Lucrezia Borgia, © Stephen Cummisky