Campus Composers: Harold Blumenfeld’s Borgia Infami

The New York City Opera will debut Harold Blumenfeld’s recently completed Borgia Infami as part of its VOX 2003 showcase of new operatic works by American composers.

Harold Blumenfeld
Harold Blumenfeld

The performance will take place at 11 a.m. May 7 at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, located at Central Park West and 86th Street in Manhattan. A panel discussion will follow.

Blumenfeld, professor emeritus of music in Arts & Sciences, began Borgia Infami during a 1998 residency at the Bogliasco Foundation’s Centro Studi Ligure, near Genoa, Italy, and completed work in St. Louis in 2002.

The libretto is by frequent collaborator Charles Kondek.

Written for nine lead singers, choruses and orchestra, Borgia Infami depicts the lives, loves and crimes of the corrupt yet brilliant Borgia clan, perhaps the most notorious family of the Italian Renaissance. The story opens in 1492 with the coronation of patriarch Rodrigo as Pope Alexander VI, but also focuses on his son Cesare, whose ruthless pursuit of power was immortalized in the writings of Machiavelli, and daughter Lucrezia, duchess of Ferrara and alleged poisoner of the family’s enemies.

Borgia Infami is a singers’ opera,” Blumenfeld said. “Arias emerge, duets, trios, a sextet. There are scenes of violence and mayhem; scenes of impassioned filial love; street urchins and irreverent comic relief; and moments of transparent, wistful simplicity.

“In the opening scene, a vast fresco of the coronation of Rodrigo Borgia as pope comes alive, and the opera is launched.”

Borgia Infami is based on two sources: The Incredible Borgias (1928) by German novelist Klabund (aka Alfred Henschke) and Victor Hugo’s ultra-operatic drama Lucrèce Borgia (1833). Klabund’s account was drawn from the records of the Borgias’ court recorder, Johann Burchard; Lucrèce Borgia previously served as the basis for an opera by Gaetano Donizetti.

— Liam Otten