A melodramatic opera in a prologue and two acts, libretto by Felice Romani after Victor Hugo’s play of the same name
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
First performance: La Scala, Milan, 26 December 1833
A critical edition by Roger Parker and Rosie Ward / Casa Ricordi Milano with the collaboration and contribution of the Municipality of Bergamo and the Fondazione Teatro Donizetti
For Donizetti, 1833 was very much linked with the history of Ferrara. In this year he wrote and presented three consecutive operas dedicated to events concerning the Este family, who had been lords of Ferrara for centuries: Parisina, presented during Lent at Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Torquato Tasso in September at the Valle in Rome, and Lucrezia Borgia at La Scala on 26 December.
Of all Italian opera composers, Donizetti was among the first to touch on Italian medieval history, and the one who focused most determinedly on it. Seven of his works are set in the period, all written in the 1830s: Imelda de’ Lambertazzi (Naples 1830), the aforementioned Estense trio in 1833, Buondelmonte (Naples 1834), Marino Faliero (Paris 1835) and Pia de’ Tolomei (Venice 1837).
In the case of Lucrezia Borgia, the work sets a further record. Taken from a play by Victor Hugo also written in 1833, it was the first time a script by the controversial writer had been used as the basis for an Italian opera.
Librettist Felice Romani and Donizetti himself picked up the revolutionary tone of the drama: the immorality of the protagonist (considered one of the emblematic criminal figures of the historical period) redeemed by motherly love, the mixing of styles rather that their traditional separation, the touches of the grotesque.
Ultimately, for Donizetti and for Italian opera, this was an irrefutable plunge into the romantic genre of the time, which predates Verdi’s Rigoletto by almost 20 years.