DONIZETTI: Lucrezia Borgia
DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda
VERDI: Simon Boccanegra
Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia is another bel canto opera with a highly unlikely plot. The infamous heroine, married three times, falls in love with a young man—and he with her—and he is her son. Paradoxically, early in the opera as he is professing his love for her he tells her the only competition she has is his mother, whom he has not seen for decades .At any rate, unbelievable as the plot may be, this opera is a showcase for the leading soprano, and was a specialty of Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé, both of whom made acclaimed recordings of it. The success of a performance rests mostly on the leading role, and Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou manages reasonably well, although some climactic notes are strident and off-pitch. Mezzo Nidia Palacios makes little of the famous Drinking Song from Act II. The men fare better: Roberto DeBiasio is a splendid Gennaro, and Enrico Giuseppe Iori's Alfonso is dramatically and vocally impressive. Sets by Angelo Sala are simple and effective, and conductor Tiziano Severini keeps things moving. Video quality disappoints. Much of the stage is dark and sometimes it is difficult to see. Audio is adequate, surely not true surround sound.
Maria Stuarda fares better in every way. The opera calls for two outstanding sopranos, and past productions have has featured Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, and Janet Baker, to mention just a few. Pier Luigi Pizzi was stage director, set and costume designer of this performance taped at La Scala on unspecified dates in 2008. Action takes place in metal cages of various sizes, an approach that is effective—everyone is a captive. And the quick blackout at the end, as Maria places her head on the block with the executioner ready to strike, is a stunning close The two leading sopranos are Anna Caterina Antonacci as Elisabetta, and Mariella Devia as Maria. Antonacci, a fine Carmen in the recent Royal Opera House Carmen (REVIEW), is effective as the dominant Queen, but vocal glories go to Devia who, incredibly, was 60 at the time. One would never know it from her incredible sound and power. She is, indeed, amazing. Male singers are adequate. The reason to own this DVD is the outstanding contribution of the two sopranos. Audio and video are excellent. The ten-minute backstage feature is a minor plus.
This Simon Boccanegra is a treasure, a production presented in Japan's NHK Hall in Tokyo September 26, 1976, the first performance in Japan of the opera. The cast could not be bettered: all of the singers were in their prime, and we are fortunate to have this historic document. As with other operas in this special series of opera productions in Japan (there are almost a dozen of them on VAI), these give collectors an opportunity to see live performances by major singers of the past—all are recommended. All have imbedded Japanese subtitles, along with English. Video and audio are of sufficient quality to convey the performances.
R.E.B. (April 2009)