Lucrezia Borgia

Teatro Regio, Thursday 3 April 2008 - Wednesday 16 April 2008


José Bros (Gennaro) - Atto I

The daughter of a Pope who poisons and kills her own son by mistake: the story of Lucrezia Borgia, Victor Hugo’s drama (presented with success on 2 February 1833 in Paris) which became an opera by Gaetano Donizetti on the libretto by Felice Romani, was certainly not easy for the rigid mail of the censors.

Hugo wrote Lucrezia Borgia and Le Roi s’amuse in the same period and described the strange pair of dramas: «ainsi la paternité sanctifiant la difformité physique, voilà Le Roi s’amuse; la maternité purifiant la difformité morale, voilà Lucrèce Borgia» (thus, fatherhood that sanctifies physical deformity, here we have Le Roi s’amuse; motherhood that purifies moral deformity, here we have Lucrèce Borgia).

Only eleven weeks after its debut, the duke Visconti di Modrone, impresario of La Scala, commissioned Felice Romani to write a libretto based on Hugo’s work; he cut references to the incestuous relationship between Lucrezia and her brother Giovanni and a few blasphemous quotations, and when the work was finished, wrote to the impresario: «I’m sending you a copy of Lucrezia Borgia. I hope there is nothing to complain about. I could neither have treated this subject better nor been more cautious with the censorship. It rests with Your Excellency to protect my work and send it to its destiny».

The opera had its debut at La Scala on 26 December 1833. Over the years it was represented with various modifications and subtitles: in Naples, for example, it was performed as The Dinner of the Vendetta, in which the fact that Lucrezia was a Pope’s daughter was not revealed to the public, and names of the protagonists were modified. Francesco Ruffa, one of the censors, wrote to the head of the police in Naples: «without mentioning other horrors of the production, it ends with the death of six individuals, five of which are poisoned at the table, where they have been enticed by the blackest perfidy masked by kind and chivalrous hospitality». Among the admirers of the opera, Eugène Delacroix, who wrote in his Diari that he preferred it to Elisir d’amore.

Main data

Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Librettist: Felice Romani
Year of the first performance: 1833 Teatro alla Scala, Milan