Giancarlo Aquilanti, the attractive warm up act last night for Renee Fleming as merciless Lucrezia Borgia at SF Opera, came from Stanford and lectured animatedly and affably about Bel Canto and the real life, scandalous Borgias of Italy’s Renaissance.
Giancarlo opened by posing the theory that if beauty is not important anymore and there’s a big disconnection between the artist and the audience, it’s not true for this opera, the Bel Canto Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti. He explained the term means beautiful singing although the style was criticized on the other side of the Alps where they can only make white wine. Giancarlo attributed the complaining to their inability to do it.
However the 1830s operas really were affected by censorship and Naples banned Lucrezia Borgia. Borgia had living descendants. So they changed the name. But who was Borgia? he continued.
Italy was an evil, decadent place, Renaissance Italy was corrupt.
Rodrigo, the vengeful duke and Lucrezia’s fourth husband in the opera, was in real life a pleasure addict and became Pope Alexander VI. He had kids. So no celibacy. His child Lucrezia died at 39 and during her life there was suspicion of incest with her brother and father, which inspired the death of her second of three husbands.
Giancarlo continues: So Lucrezia the opera is challenging musically, she’s a killer without mercy but also a loving mother, one or the other throughout the opera. Her husband is worse, his goal is to fulfill his desire for revenge since he thinks Gennaro, Lucrezia’s son, is her lover not her son.
Orsini, Gennaro’s comrade and best friend, vows with Gennaro to live and die together. Orsini the friend actually is a contralto voice, female, although the character is not a lover. Giancarlo notes how dynamic the opera is, as the story unfolds rapidly and Bel Canto defines personality, either cruel like Lucrezia or a good guy like Gennaro. There’s a prologue and two acts. They have a huge variety of arias and juxtapositions with all on stage.
Giancarlo played a few sounds bytes that went smoothly although the new sound technician who came to escort Giancarlo from the press room to the podium had said he was new and things could go wrong.
Giancarlo played the part where Lucrezia warns her husband Rodrigo that he is husband number four not number one.
We don’t want to argue with a woman singing like that! said Giancarlo accommodatingly.
Next he plays the part where Gennaro tells of living Naples with a fisherman whom he thought was his father when a soldier appears with a letter. “My mother . . . “ sings Gennaro.
Next Giancarlo played some of the Duke, who is a bass. He thinks Gennaro is the lover of his wife Lucrezia. He plots and prepares his revenge. Giancarlo notes how Donizetti introduces the arias in Lucrezia with a short orchestration.
Giancarlo concludes the musical examples by making the audience laugh, saying You are going to go home and sing—you will get your money’s worth. This is not one of those German operas whre you go home and don’t remember anything.
Giancarlo concluded passionately by saying Critics say Bel Canto is capricious and pointless but Donizetti’s Bel Canto is about profound, intricate, personality and drama.
Some audience members came to his podium to shake his hand, then he was off to a rehearsal he was holding. He himself also plays piano and composes. He spent the summer in his native Italy and traveling in Europe. He had originally started teaching music theory and composition at Stanford for one year and he ended up returning year after year.
Giancarlo Aquilanti is at http://www.giancarloaquilanti.com.
For more information: www.SFOpera.com
For more articles by this writer check out the San Francisco theater blog at http://knotmove.com/theater-in-san-francisco or Taming of the Shrew at Cal Shakes.