Small picture of Donizetti



Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia

English National Opera, London,  January 31 - March 3, 2011.

Photographs by Stephen Cummiskey, courtesy of English National Opera


Photographs from the 2011 ENO production of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia.  Unfortunately, the photographs hardly capture the atmosphere and richness of the production.In recent years, English National Opera have commissioned a film director to direct one of its operas in each season.  The explicit reason has been to get a fresh eye to look at opera and the business of opera direction, but, no doubt, the additional publicity has not been unwelcome.  Unfortunately, the results have hardly been a resounding success with either critics or audiences. 

This year the ENO asked Mike Figgis, whose best known film is probably Leaving Las Vegas, to direct Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia and the response was possibly even more hostile.  Figgis hardly helped his cause by cheerfully admitting to having seen few operas, to having no prior knowledge of this opera, to never having heard of “trouser” roles and hardly sounding sympathetic to bel canto opera as an opera form.  Having said that, he put considerable thought into the project and, inevitably in many eyes, he came up with the idea of using film in the production. Rather than using film as a backdrop for the opera as a whole, he prefaced the prologue and acts 1 and 2 with short films using new original dialogue that explored aspects of Lucrezia’s life and then covered the scene change in act 2 with a further film relating to two paintings of the era.  Except at one point, the music was pre-recorded onto the films’ soundtrack and owed little to Donizetti.  Thus, the film was completely separate from the stage action and the opera proper.

The music under Paul Daniel generally garnered widespread praise, but Daniel was rather less successful with his creation of a new, but pedestrian, English libretto.  The main soloists were all in good voice - Claire Rutter as Lucrezia, Alistair Miles as Alfonso, Michael Fabiano as Gennaro and Elizabeth DeShong as Orsini - and Es Devlin’s sets and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes were praised for their Renaissance style and visual richness, some taking their inspiration from paintings of the time.

It was the overall direction that fired up the critics - “unwieldy in the extreme”, "a great big stinker”, “static, inert and at time inept realisation”, “strange nothingness”, “dramaturgy so deeply conventional and frankly boring” were just some of the comments.  A few were in favour, “brings a new multimedia dimension to this rarely produced but excellent work", "very pure and often very beautiful staging" but perhaps the most interesting reaction was Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph   who confessed to being “curiously gripped” despite some misgivings.

A personal viewpoint on the production can be found here.


The Team


Lucrezia Borgia - Claire Rutter

Gennaro - Michael Fabiano

Maffio Orsini - Elizabeth DeShong

Alfonso d'Este - Alastair Miles

Liverotto - Tyler Clarke

Vitellozzo - Jonathan Stoughton

Petrucci - Gerard Collett

Gazella - James Gower


Conductor - Paul Daniel

Director - Mike Figgis

Designer - Es Devlin

Costumes - Brigitte Reiffenstuel

Lighting Designer - Peter Mumford


English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus



Lucrezia's first sight of the sleeping Gennaro
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 




Lucrezia and Gennaro
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 



Gennaro's friends denounce Lucrezia
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 




Alfonso offers a toast to Gennaro
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 



Orsini persuades Gennaro to stay
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey




Orsini's drinking song
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 



The death of Gennaro
Credit: Stephen Cummiskey 




Page initially published in  2011