In three acts by DONIZETTI.
Text by FELICE ROMANI after Victor Hugo's drama.
Donizetti's Lucrezia was one of the first tragic operas to command
great success, notwithstanding its dreadful theme and its light music,
which is half French, half Italian. It is in some respects the
predecessor of Verdi's operas, Rigoletto, Trovatore etc., which have
till now held their own in many
heatres because the subject is
interesting and the music may well entertain us for an evening,
though its value often lies only in the striking harmonies. The
libretto cannot inspire us with feelings of particular pleasure, the
heroine, whose part is by far the best and most interesting, being the
celebrated murderess and poisoner Lucrezia Borgia. At the same time
she gives evidence in her dealings with her son Gennaro of possessing a
very tender and motherly heart, and the songs, in which she pours out
her love for him are really fine as well as touching.
Lucrezia, wife of Don Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, goes to Venice in
disguise, to see the son of her first marriage, Gennaro. In his
earliest youth he was given to a fisherman, who brought him up as his
own son.--Gennaro feels himself attracted towards the strange and
beautiful woman, who visits him, but hearing from his companions, who
recognize and charge her with all sorts of crimes, that she is Lucrezia
Borgia, he abhors her. Don Alfonso, not knowing the existence of this
son of an early marriage, is jealous, and when Gennaro comes to Ferrara
and in order to prove his hatred of the Borgias, tears off Lucrezia's
name and scutcheon from the palace-gates, Rustighello, the Duke's
confidant is ordered to imprison him. Lucrezia, hearing from her
servant Gubella of the outrage to her name and honor complains to the
Duke, who promises immediate punishment of the malefactor.
Gennaro enters, and terror-stricken Lucrezia recognizes her son.
Vainly does she implore the Duke to spare the youth. With
exquisite cruelty he forces her to hand the poisoned golden cup to the
culprit herself, and, departing, bids her accompany her prisoner to the
door. This order gives her an opportunity to administer an antidote by
which she saves Gennaro's life, and she implores him to fly. But
Gennaro does not immediately follow her advice, being induced by his
friend Orsini to assist at a grand festival at Prince Negroni's.
Unhappily all those young men, who formerly reproached and offended
Lucrezia so mortally in presence of her son, are assembled there by
Lucrezia's orders. She has mixed their wine with poison, and herself
appears to announce their death. Horror-stricken she sees Gennaro, who
was not invited, among them. He has partaken of the wine like the
others, but on her offering him an antidote, he refuses to take it; its
quantity is insufficient for his friends, and he threatens to kill the
murderess. Then she reveals the secret of his birth to him, but he
only turns from this mother, for whom he had vainly longed his whole
life, and dies. The Duke coming up to witness his wife's horrible
victory, finds all either dead or dying and Lucrezia herself expires,
stricken down by deadly remorse and pain.