'Lucrezia Borgia'

Making his opera helming debut, Mike Figgis is clearly not short of ideas about "Lucrezia Borgia."

Making his opera helming debut, Mike Figgis is clearly not short of ideas about “Lucrezia Borgia.” Unfortunately, none of them are on stage. They’re all in self-indulgent, soft-core movie sequences interpolated into the (in)action of his torpid production. There’s strong singing and atmospheric lighting, but Figgis’ startlingly inept period-style staging — to be screened in 3D to cinemas across the U.K. — raises further concerns about the management’s “new directors” policy and its producing skills.

Filled with lustful looks and heaving bosoms plus gratuitous nudity (female, of course), Figgis’ nonsinging film material makes “The Tudors” look like documentary. It supplies back story of Lucrezia’s abused girlhood undreamed of by Donizetti. That would be fine if it enriched the opera, but it merely confuses the narrative and is stylistically wholly at odds with the sung material.

Beyond the film that clearly devoured most of the budget, the evening crawls through a compendium of opera cliches. A stage-within-a-stage to point up theatricality? Check. Picture-frames so as to borrow resonances from famous paintings e.g. “The Last Supper”? Check. Indicating death by the amplified exhalation of breath? Check.

Figgis seems to have no idea how to animate or move characters on or off the stage with any dramatic intent. Second-rank Donizetti melodrama is always going to be a tough call, but letting characters stand and deliver in such unchanging shapes drains away what drama there is. And with the libretto in audible English, the gap between text and performance feels even wider.

Conductor Paul Daniel’s clunky translation is filled with mis-stresses and groan-worthy rhymes. His efficient conducting lacks attack, 19th century Italian repertoire not being his forte.

Although she ducks the climactic top E flat, Claire Rutter’s coloratura Lucrezia is assured, vigorous and suitably fierce. But unhelped by Figgis, her portrayal lacks variety. A perfectly cast Michael Fabiano is a youthful Gennaro, surging with power right through his extensive range.

When Gennaro desecrates the Borgia name, he is warned, “That might be funny now, but I think you’ll be sorry in the morning.” The same could be said of the production. The fact that the few minutes of film make the biggest statement betrays a lack of faith in the power of the opera itself and amounts to an admission of defeat.

Lucrezia Borgia

The Coliseum, London; 2,358 seats;£95 $151 top

Production

An English National Opera presentation of an opera two acts by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Felice Romani. Directed by Mike Figgis. Conducted and translated by Paul Daniel.

Creative

Sets, Es Devlin; costumes, Brigitte Reiffenstuhl; lighting, Peter Mumford; production stage manager, Sarah Walley. Opened, reviewed Jan. 31, 2011. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast

Lucrezia Borgia - Claire Rutter
Gennaro - Michael Fabiano
Alfonso d'Este - Alastair Miles
Maffio Orsini - Elizabeth DeShong
With: Michael Burke, Tyler Clarke, Gerard Collett, James Gower, Matthew Hargreaves, Richard Roberts, Jonathan Stoughton.

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