On May 3, 2023, New Amsterdam Opera presented a concert of excerpts from Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia.” Held at The Players in Gramercy, this concert comes as the company readies to mount a full production later this month, and featured the cover cast artists, accompanied by founder and artistic director, Keith Chambers.
Opening the program was soprano Elizaveta Ulakhovich, who is covering the title role, with Lucrezia’s aria “Com’e bello.” The gentle, lullaby-like rhythm of the accompaniment was finely contrasted by the affectionate fullness of Ulakhovich’s soprano as she mused on the sight of her sleeping son. Despite the regal weight of her voice, the ensuing faster section flowed with ease and great sentiment, with Chambers tapering the accompaniment just enough to let her bask in the atmosphere that these emotions created. After displaying sweetness, as well as enough power to fill the modest venue, Ulakhovich returned to the initial, dreamy mood in such a way that her prior strength and jubilance bubbled up from behind the poise of the character.
Following this was tenor James Danner, singing Gennaro in his duet with Lucrezia, “Di pescatore ignobile.” Danner infused the text with yearning as well as nostalgia, led along by Ulakhovich with growing fervor. While the earlier high notes were hit unsteadily, Danner found his stride well as the duet built to a rapid exchange between him and Ulakhovich, being able to match her in passion and resonance for a well-balanced conclusion.
Next up was bass-baritone Nate Mattingly, singing Alfonso’s “Vieni: la mia vendetta.” The sting of the opening chords was effortlessly joined by the bitter tones that tinged the duke’s plotting. Mattingly balanced both vocal and dramatic aspects to great effect, able to deliver ponderous low notes as well as close out the aria with a fierce boil that demonstrated a duke no less deadly than his Borgia wife.
The following number “Trafitto tosto ei sia… Guai se ti sfugge un moto,” made for a compelling initial duet thanks to the sparring between Alfonso and Lucrezia over a scarcer accompaniment. When Gennaro joined, the ensuing trio saw the artists in fine sync, and the recent poisoning of the latter added a layer of fear and suspicion among the characters, building towards a low and dirge-like climax.
In the second act, mezzo-soprano Victoria Thomasch joined Danner for the duet, “Onde a lei to mostri grato.” Thomasch conveyed well the loyalty and valor of Orsini, first in trying to dissuade Gennaro from the party at the palace, and then in affirming their shared fate. She displayed a wealth of tone through the runs which answered Danner’s phrases, as well as a fermata which melted the tension and led into their bold and urgent conclusion.
For the next aria, “Il segreto per esser felici,” Thomasch delivered a fun and lively brindisi as she strolled through the halls of the historic theatre club, maintaining her support as well as an ease of sound, before she returned to the stage to truly savor the moment.
Bringing the program to a close was Ulakhovich, singing Lucrezia’s tragic aria “Era desso il figlio mio.” Here Ulakhovich achieved much in relating the broken heart of the Borgia duchess as she beholds her now-dead son. She navigated the melismatic run with a palpable angst, and had little trouble in washing the room with her vocal power, the fiercer qualities met with sufficient love and delivered with a visceral grace.
Wednesday’s concert, while less than an hour, had much to enjoy overall due to the artistry of Chambers and company. The selections made for a captivating preview into this overlooked opera, held in a space almost as old as the work itself. New Amsterdam Opera has raised its glass to this bel canto treasure. Their upcoming production is sure to delight patrons when it opens on May 20 at The Center at West Park.