Edita Gruberova in recent years has pretty much cut her repertoire down to a handful of bel canto roles; Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux and the title roles in Anna Bolena, La Straniera, Norma and Lucrezia Borgia. The last of these was recorded in Munich in 2009 in a production by Christof Loy for the Bayerisches Staatsoper. It shows that Gruberova still very much at the height of her powers but the production is less satisfactory.
Basically, the production is a sort of anti-production; at times verging on a semi staged concert performance. Most of the time the cast is, sort of, in modern dress though, mysteriously, the chorus in Act 2 gets the doublet and hose treatment. The stage is bare but for chairs and the occasional table. There’s a big “Lucrezia Borgia” logo on the back wall that gets the “B” decapitated in the desecration scene. The party scene is dull, dull, dull, with the only female presence a rather prim young lady who looks as if she’s dying to get back to the convent. There’s also some fairly clownish acting, especially from the Duke and (the ridiculously servile) Rustighello who look as if they would have been twirling their moustaches if they had moustaches to twirl. Even Gruberova is not immune from the slighyly cartoonish feel of the acting ,especially in the final scene.
All that said, the singing is mostly at least pretty decent. Gruberova is on great form and does what she does better than anyone else around; make even the most florid bel canto passages sound effortlessly musical. Pavol Breslik is a very sympathetic and youthful sounding Gennaro. His is also one of the more believable characterisations too. Orsini is sung here by Alice Coote. I though that she started out well enough but by Act 2 her slightly metallic tone and acting tics were starting to irritate. The rest of the singing is perfectly OK. Bertrand de Billy’s conducting isn’t exactly thrilling but it’s undistracting. For me, the music making, Gruberova aside, just couldn’t overcome the dullness of the presentation though.
Brian Large, surely the only person still active in opera who is older than Gruberova, was the video director. It’s typical but not excessive Large. There are too many close ups for my taste and they tend to show up the thinness of the stage action and acting. Video and sound (DTS-HD) quality are both top notch. The booklet contains a track listing and a curiously uninformative essay. Subtitle options are English, german, Italian, French and Spanish.
There’s a major bonus included. It’s an hour long biopic about Gruberova byClaus Wischmann and Stefan Pannen called The Art of Bel Canto. It’s well worth a look. It features interview footage with Gruberova, much of it on location in Slovakia, as well as footage of performances from various stages of her career as well as interviews with the likes of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. She comes off as quite charming, utterly professional and a very thoughtful musician. Highly recommended.
The bonus film aside it’s pretty hard to recommend this disk. The San Francisco recording of Lucrezia Borgia with Renée Fleming, Michael Fabiano and Liz DeShong is much better visually and dramatically and probably musically too. Also, Gruberova can be seen to better effect in other recent BSO recordings, notably those of Roberto Devereux and Norma. This Lucrezia Borgia is for those who want to see the doco or Gruberova completists.