Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WNO - Lucrezia Borgia - 11/17/08

By Gaetano Donizetti
Conductor: Plácido Domingo
Director: John Pascoe
Lucrezia Borgia: Sondra Radvanovsky
Gennaro: Vittorio GrigoloMaffio
Orsini: Kate Aldrich
Duke Alfonso: John Marcus Bindel

I just had to do it. The temptation was too strong not to give in and go back to see Lucrezia Borgia, this time with celebrated soprano Sondra Radvanovsky making her long overdue WNO debut. Upon a quick review of the program, I quickly realized that there was one more cast change, this one unexpected, as Ruggero Raimondi was indisposed and John Marcus Bindel had to step in Duke Alfonso’s shoes. In fine, this little comparative study proved to be not only an interesting exercise, but also a wonderful opportunity to catch some details that had escaped my attention the first time around.

The main purpose for my return visit was, of course, to hear Sondra Radvanovsky and observe the differences between her and Renée Fleming. And differences there were indeed. While Renée Fleming’s all American girl wholesomeness made Lucrezia maybe more sympathetic than she deserved to be, Sondra Radvanovsky did not have any qualms in rendering the conflicted heroine as a generally tough-as-nails kind of gal. This was particularly palpable in her confrontation with her husband when she's trying to save her son's life. Even her failed attempt at seduction was not as sweet and heart-felt as her counterpart’s, and her anger eventually raged much more convincingly. By the same token, in the last scene, when she was unabashedly oozing with unbearable suffering at her dead son’s feet, one could feel her gut-wrenching pain from the last corner of the theater. This outpouring of raw emotions was conveyed all the more forcefully that her singing was reaching a transcendental quality that nailed everybody to their seats. Her impeccable technique combined with her dazzling expressiveness made her performance one of a kind, the unforgettable kind.
The other new cast member was an excellent surprise as well. While he did not have the same magnetic presence as Ruggero Raimondi, John Marcus Bindel made Alfonso the strong and menacing character he should be, and his singing was scarily convincing. The rest of the production unfolded as planned, but I have to say that a second viewing made me enjoy it even more than last week. I could detect some humor here and there, mostly of the noir kind of course, the discreet luminosity of some lighting (I’m thinking of the ethereal atmosphere of Lucrezia’s first encounter with her son) and I got a new appreciation for the quietly effective chorus. It was still a pretty silly story, but you don’t get singing of that caliber very often, so the second time around was definitely an even bigger charm.

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