In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Lucrezia Borgia

KATONAH, NY
Caramoor Festival
7/12/14

In Review Caramoor Borgia hdl 714
Soprano Angela Meade in the title role of a semi-staged concert performance of Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor
© Gabe Palacio 2014
In Review Caramoor Borgia lg 714
Tamara Mumford and Michele Angelini
© Gabe Palacio 2014
In Review Caramoor Borgia lg 2 714
Christophoros Stamboglis
© Gabe Palacio 2014

When properly performed, Donizetti's best operas emerge not just as vehicles for vocal display or compendiums of good tunes, but as finely wrought dramas in music. That was definitely how Lucrezia Borgia appeared on July 12 in the Caramoor Festival's semi-staged concert version. (This was the first of two performances; the piece was due to return, in a slightly different edition, the following weekend.) This summer's festival paired the work with Rigoletto; in an accompanying program note, conductor Will Crutchfield noted the kinship of the two operas. Both derive from Victor Hugo plays; both depict a parent who unwittingly brings about the death of a beloved child. In Crutchfield's well-cast, carefully prepared reading, Lucrezia showed many of the qualities of its celebrated younger cousin: the Donizetti work surely provided a model for Rigoletto's dramatically charged confrontations and flashes of gallows gaiety. Crutchfield seemed so intent on revealing Lucrezia's theatrical impact that he sometimes scanted its vivacity; under his direction, the playing of the Orchestra of St. Luke's was forceful but not always ideally transparent. But he made a stirring case for the work's significance and for Donizetti's genius. 

Angela Meade took the title role, giving as accomplished a performance as I've ever seen from her — which is saying quite a lot. The voice itself was, if anything, richer and fuller than ever, especially in its potent lower reaches. The technique was, as expected, a marvel: the full-throated voicing of passagework, the easy access to brilliant high notes. In the prologue finale, a pianissimo high A-flat, sustained over the churning ensemble for five long measures, provoked astonished gasps from the crowd. But Meade, who seems to grow as an artist with each passing season, brought a new element of authority to this assignment: a formerly diffident performer has become one who now commands the stage as her natural dominion. Her fiery declamation in her encounters with her husband was that of a singer in full command of the dramatic moment; so, in the same scene, was the pathos in her pleas for her adored Gennaro's life. This was the work of a true prima donna.

Michele Angelini brought a sweet, soft-grained lyric tenor, with glints of metal in its upper reaches, to the role of Gennaro. His is not a large voice, but his refusal to push it beyond its natural limits was admirable. Gennaro is a young man unaware of the precariousness of his existence, but the boyishness of Angelini's stage manner made the character's vulnerability achingly plain. Tamara Mumford was a tangy Maffio Orsini, using her multi-hued mezzo-soprano to create sharply etched musical statements, her singing marred only by an ineffective close to the Brindisi, where her top seemed momentarily to desert her. 

Bass Christopher Stamboglis, as Alfonso, sang with little variety or nuance, but the sheer size of his voice was mightily impressive, especially in his second-act cabaletta, where he easily rode over the brass-infused orchestral tuttis. The three Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists who played the murderous henchmen of the ducal couple were all first-rate: tenor Cameron Schutza (Rustighello), oily and incisive; baritone Zachary Altman (Astolfo), suave and insinuating; Joseph Charles Buetel (Gubetto), with an imposing bass-baritone that in the work's opening moments offered the first hints of the darkness that lay ahead. spacer 

FRED COHN

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