Renaissance Italy’s infamous poisoner, at least in her operatic incarnation, was the subject of Gaetano Donizetti’s 24th opera (give or take a few, even the composer himself wasn’t sure how many operas he wrote). It’s a fine work that has received just one performance at the Met. That was in 1904 with Caruso in the tenor role. Why the company doesn’t bring it back, considering all the inferior stuff it’s been force feeding its audience is as mysterious as the navigation of a homing pigeon. There are only a handful of composers who can match the mature Donizetti.
The plot involves the poisoning of a lot of people including Lucrezia’s own son. He gets poisoned twice in the opera; number 2 does the job. He doesn’t know she’s his mother. He realizes her identity with his last breath. Don’t ask – it’s opera. The work is in two acts with a prologue. The prologue ends with a fine concerted number which obviously influenced the young Verdi. Gennaro (the tenor) learns that the beautiful woman who’s attracted his interest in none other than the wicked poisoner herself. The same one who is also his mother.
This recording, which I’ve written about previously, was made immediately following Montserrat Caballe’s sensational first appearance in New York. She performed the opera in a concert version at Carnegie Hall under Jonel Perlea’s direction. Among the cast were Shirley Verrett, Alfredo Kraus, and Ezio Flagello. Note the sustained pianissimo high note in the middle of the number which seems to last for an hour. It was one of Caballe’s finest vocal traits.