Lucrezia Borgia (opera)

Lucrezia Borgia is a melodramatic opera in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after the play Lucrezia Borgia by Victor Hugo, in its turn after the legend of Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia Borgia was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan.

Lucrezia Borgia
Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Thérèse Tietjens in the title role
LibrettistFelice Romani
Based onLucrezia Borgia
by Victor Hugo
26 December 1833 (1833-12-26)
La Scala, Milan

Performance history


19th century


The first London production was at Her Majesty's Theatre on 6 June 1839 with Giulia Grisi and Mario.[1] When the opera was staged in Paris (Théâtre des Italiens) in 1840, Victor Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions within the domain of French copyright law. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed.[1]

The first English-language production was in London on 30 December 1843. The English tenor Sims Reeves was a noted Gennaro. Lucrezia was first presented in New Orleans on 27 April 1843 and then at New York's American Theatre on 11 May 1843[1] and later at the Palmo's Opera House in 1847: with Giulia Grisi in 1854; and with Thérèse Tietjens and Brignoli in 1876. It was given at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, in 1882, and at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in 1904, with Enrico Caruso as Gennaro and Arturo Vigna conducting.

20th century and beyond


A famous performance of Lucrezia Borgia presented by the American Opera Society Ensemble in 1965 at Carnegie Hall with soprano Montserrat Caballé, who was making her American debut, was soon followed by a recording featuring Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Alfredo Kraus, and Ezio Flagello, conducted by Jonel Perlea, who also led the Carnegie Hall performance.

Lucrezia Borgia is often produced as a vehicle for a star soprano, including Leyla Gencer, Mariella Devia, Beverly Sills, Dame Joan Sutherland, Renée Fleming, Edita Gruberová and Sondra Radvanovsky.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 26 December 1833
(Conductor: Eugenio Cavallini)
Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara bass Luciano Mariani
Lucrezia Borgia soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande
Maffio Orsini contralto Marietta Brambilla
Gennaro, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Francesco Pedrazzi
Jeppo Liverotto, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Napoleone Marconi
Don Apostolo Gazella, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
bass Giuseppe Visanetti
Ascanio Petrucci, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
baritone Ismaele Guaita
Oloferno Vitellozzo, young nobleman in
service of the Venetian Republic
tenor Giuseppe Vaschetti
Rustighello, in the service of Don Alfonso tenor Ranieri Pochini
Gubetta, in service of Lucrezia bass Domenico Spiaggi
Astolfo, in service of Lucrezia tenor Francesco Petrazzoli
Gentlemen-at-arms, officers, and nobles of the Venetian Republic;
same, attached to court of Alfonso; ladies-in-waiting, Capuchin friars, etc.


Disegno per copertina di libretto, drawing for Lucrezia Borgia (undated).
Time: Early 16th century
Place: Venice and Ferrara



Scene 1


The Palazzo Grimani in Venice

Gennaro and his friends, including Orsini, celebrate on the brightly lit terrace, in front of which lies the Giudecca Canal ("Bella Venezia!"). The friends' conversation turns to Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, to whose house they will be travelling the next day, and to his wife, the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. On hearing Lucrezia's name, Orsini tells of how Gennaro and he, alone in a forest, were warned by a mysterious old man to beware her and the entire Borgia family, and that the two of them would die together ("Nella fatal di Rimini"). Professing his boredom with Orsini's tale Gennaro wanders off and falls asleep nearby. His friends are invited to rejoin the festivities, and he is left behind ("Senti! La danza invitaci").

Scenes 2 and 3


A gondola appears, and from it a masked woman exits onto the terrace ("Tranquillo ei posa..."). She observes the sleeping Gennaro with affection and hurries over to him ("Com'è bello! Quale incanto in quel volto onesto e altero!"). When she kisses Gennaro's hand, he wakes and is instantly struck by her beauty ("Leggiadra e amabil siete"). He expresses his love for her, but admits that the one person nearer to him is his mother that he has never met. He sings of his childhood as an orphan brought up by a common fisherman father ("Di pescatore ignobile esser figliuol credei"). The woman, sympathetic to his plight, weeps for him ("Ama tua madre, e tenero sempre per lei ti serba...").

The others return ("Gente appressa... io ti lascio") and seem to recognise her, listing in turn the members of their families she has killed, to Gennaro's horror and disbelief ("Maffio Orsini, signora, son'io"). Gennaro is then finally told that the woman is Lucrezia Borgia.

Act 1



The Duke, believing Gennaro to be Lucrezia's lover, plots his murder with his servant Rustighello ("Vieni: la mia vendetta è meditata e pronta"). Gennaro and his companions leave the house for a party and pass the Duke's palace with its large gilded coat of arms reading Borgia. Keen to show his contempt for the Borgia family, Gennaro removes the initial "B", leaving the obscene "Orgia" (orgy).

In the palace, Lucrezia is shown into the Duke's chamber. Having seen the defaced crest, she demands death for the perpetrator, not knowing that it is Gennaro. The Duke orders Gennaro to be brought before her and accuses him of staining the noble name of Borgia, a crime to which he readily confesses. Lucrezia, horrified, attempts to excuse the insult as a youthful prank, but Don Alfonso accuses Lucrezia of infidelity, having observed her meeting with Gennaro in Venice. In a scene full of drama and tension, she denies any impropriety, but he demands the prisoner's death and forces her to choose the manner of Gennaro's execution. Pretending to pardon him, the Duke offers Gennaro a glass of wine and he swallows it. After a stunning trio ("Guai se ti sfugge un moto, se ti tradisce un detto!") the Duke leaves and Lucrezia hurries to Gennaro, giving him an antidote to the poison the Duke has mixed with the wine. He drinks, and in a last duet, she implores him to flee the city and her husband ("Bevi e fuggi... te'n prego, o Gennaro!").

Act 2


The palace of the Princess Negroni

Ignoring Lucrezia's advice, Gennaro attends a party at the palace, swearing never to be parted from his friend Orsini. Orsini leads the party in a brindisi or drinking song ("Il segreto per esser felici") and they drink. Lucrezia enters and announces that in revenge for their insults in Venice she has poisoned their wine and arranged five coffins for their bodies. She has hitherto believed that Gennaro fled Ferrara on her advice, and is thus dismayed when he steps forward and announces that she has poisoned a sixth. Orsini, Liverotto, Vitellozzo, Petrucci and Gazella fall dead. Gennaro seizes a dagger and attempts to kill Lucrezia, but she stops him by revealing that he is in fact her son. Once again she asks him to drink the antidote, but this time he refuses, choosing to die with his friends. In a final cabaletta ("Era desso il figlio mio"), Lucrezia mourns her son and expires.



The closing cabaletta "Era desso il figlio mio" was added by Donizetti upon insistence by renowned soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande, who created the role of Lucrezia Borgia. It is one of the most demanding arias in all the operatic repertoire, with trills and coloratura passages that demand extreme vocal agility. Donizetti later removed the aria because he believed it damaged the credibility of the ending.[2]


Year Cast
Maffio Orsini,
Don Alfonso)
Opera House and Orchestra
1965 Montserrat Caballé,
Alain Vanzo,
Jane Berbié,
Kostas Paskalis
Jonel Perlea,
American Opera Society orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, July)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: 1030815
1966 Leyla Gencer,
Giacomo Aragall,
Anna Maria Rota,
Mario Petri
Carlo Franci,
Teatro San Carlo di Napoli orchestra and chorus
(Recording of a performance at Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 29 January 1966)
CD: Hunt Productions
Cat: HUNTCD 544
1966 Montserrat Caballé,
Alfredo Kraus,
Shirley Verrett,
Ezio Flagello
Jonel Perlea,
RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Cat: RCAG 66422RG
1974 Leyla Gencer,
José Carreras,
Tatiana Troyanos,
Matteo Manuguerra
Nicola Rescigno,
Dallas Civic Opera (Live)
CD: Melodram
Cat: 270109
1975 Joan Sutherland,
John Brecknock,
Huguette Tourangeau,
Michael Devlin
Richard Bonynge,
Houston Symphony Orchestra and chorus (Live)
LP: MRF Records
1976 Beverly Sills,
Henry Price,
Susanne Marsee,
Adib Fazah
Julius Rudel,
New York City Opera (Live)
CD: Opera Depot
Cat: 11295-2
1977 Joan Sutherland,
Margreta Elkins,
Robert Allman,
Ron Stevens
Richard Bonynge,
Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra and Chorus of Australian Opera
DVD: Opus Arte "Faveo",
Cat: OAF 4026D
1978 Joan Sutherland,
Giacomo Aragall,
Marilyn Horne,
Ingvar Wixell
Richard Bonynge,
National Philharmonic Orchestra and London Opera Chorus
CD: Decca
Cat: 421497
1979 Leyla Gencer,
Alfredo Kraus,
Elena Zilio,
Bonaldo Giaiotti
Gabriele Ferro,
Teatro Comunale di Firenze orchestra and chorus (Live)
CD: Living Stage
Cat: LS1096
1980 Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Anne Howells,
Stafford Dean
Richard Bonynge,
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden orchestra and chorus (Live)
DVD: Covent Garden Pioneer
Cat: B 12385-01
1989 Joan Sutherland,
Alfredo Kraus,
Martine Dupuy,
Michele Pertusi
Richard Bonynge,
Gran Teatro del Liceo orchestra and chorus
(Video recording of a performance in the Gran Teatro del Liceo, 31 May)
VHS Video Cassette: Lyric Distribution,
Cat: 1842 (incomplete) & 1882 (1990)
2007 Dimitra Theodossiou,
Roberto De Biasio,
Nidia Palacios,
Enrico Giuseppe Iori
Tiziano Severini,
Orchestra and Chorus of Bergamo Musica Festival G. Donizetti (Live)
DVD: Naxos
Cat: 2.110264
2009 Edita Gruberová,
Pavol Breslik,
Alice Coote,
Franco Vassallo

Bertrand de Billy
Bayerisches Staatsoper
(Recording of a performance in the Nationaltheater, Munich, February)

DVD Medici Arts,
Cat: 2072458-1
2010 Edita Gruberová,
José Bros,
Silvia Tro Santafé,
Franco Vassallo
Andriy Yurkevych
WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln
(Recording of a performance in the Philarmonie Köln, 4 June)
CD: Nightingale Classics AG.
Cat: NC 000100-2
2010 Mariella Devia,
Giuseppe Filianoti,
Mariana Pizzolato,
Alex Esposito
Marco Guidarini
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana
(Recording of a performance in Teatro delle Muse di Ancona, February
CD: Bongiovanni
Cat: GB 2560/62
2013 Renée Fleming,
Michael Fabiano,
Elizabeth DeShong,
Vitalij Kowaljow
Riccardo Frizza,
San Francisco Opera orchestra and chorus




  1. ^ a b c Ashbrook and Hibberd, p. 234
  2. ^ Lias, Antony (8 February 2011). "Lucrezia Borgia: English National Opera, 31 January 2011". Opera Britannia. Archived from the original on 1 March 2013.
  3. ^ Capon, Brian (December 2009). "Recordings of Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti". Opera Discography. Retrieved 19 January 2020.

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