The Vatican echoes with chants. Rodrigo Borgia is pope.
Steps away, and five centuries later, a tour guide regales visitors with tales of the infamous Borgia clan. Rodrigo, the family patriarch, boasts of their strength. Eldest son Cesare, ensconced within the College of Cardinals, longs for an army. Daughter Lucrezia, alleged poisoner of the family’s enemies, steps free from a painting and into a life of murder and betrayal.
In “Borgia Infami,” St. Louis composer Harold Blumenfeld (1923-2014) combines historical fact and dramatic legend to investigate the nature of power and how secrets echo across the generations.
On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Winter Opera Saint Louis and the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences will present the world premiere of Blumenfeld’s two-act opera in Edison Theatre at Washington University in St. Louis.
A singer’s opera
Written for nine lead singers, choruses and orchestra, “Borgia Infami” depicts the lives, loves and crimes of the brilliant yet corrupt Borgias, perhaps the most notorious family of the Italian Renaissance.
The story opens in 1492 with Rodrigo’s coronation as Pope Alexander VI. But the narrative also jumps forward and backward in time. The Vatican tour guide is magically transformed into Narciso, a poor officer of noble birth who falls under Lucrezia’s spell. Rodrigo feuds with the pious monk Savonarola. Cesare flies to the battlefield, his ruthless trajectory immortalized in the writings of Machiavelli.
Blumenfeld, a professor emeritus of music in Arts & Sciences, who taught at Washington University for nearly 40 years, began “Borgia Infami” in 1998, while in residence at the Bogliasco Foundation’s Centro Studi Ligure, near Genoa, Italy. The opera is based primarily on two sources: “The Incredible Borgias” (1928) by German novelist Klabund (aka Alfred Henschke) and Victor Hugo’s “Lucrèce Borgia” (1833). In 2003, the New York City Opera performed excerpts as part of its annual VOX showcase.
“Borgia Infami is a singers’ opera,” Blumenfeld said at the time. “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 score, a vast fresco of the coronation of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope comes alive, and the opera is launched.”
Cast & Crew
“Borgia Infami” was Blumenfeld’s final collaboration with librettist Charles Kondek. The pair also worked together on the farcical ensemble opera “Fourscore: An Opera of Opposites” (1986), the opera-bagatelle “Breakfast Waltzes” (1991), and the full-length “Seasons in Hell” (1996), based on the life of poet Arthur Rimbaud.
“Borgia Infami” is conducted by Scott Schoonover, founder and artistic director of St. Louis’ acclaimed Union Avenue Opera. Gina Galati, founder of Winter Opera Saint Louis, directs.
The cast is led by baritone Jacob Lassetter as Rodrigo, mezzo-soprano Lindsey Anderson as Lucrezia and bass Andrew Potter as Cesare. Tenors John Kaneklides and Anthony Heinemann play Narcisio and Savonarola.
Nacisio’s friends — Andrea, Ascanio, Jeppo, Oloferno — are played by Zachary Devin, Joel Rogier, Jason Mallory and Robert McNichols, Jr., respectively. Rounding out the cast are Karen Kanakis, Leann Schuering and Victoria Menke as a trio of tourists.
Costume designer is JC Krajicek. Sets and lights are by Scott Loebl and Natali Arco. Darwin Aquino is chorus master. Robert Klein is stage manager. Pianist is Gail Hintz. Laura Skroska is property master. Joseph Novak and Sarah Browdy are technical director and orchestra personnel manager.
“Borgia Infami” begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. Performances take place in Edison Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $25, or $20 for seniors and Washington University faculty and staff; $10 for students and children; and free for Washington University students.
Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office. For more information, call 314-935-6543.