Borgia Infami: An opera in English in two acts by Harold Blumenfeld (world premiere)
Produced by Winter Opera Saint Louis
Saturday, September 30 - 7:30 P.M.
Sunday, October 1 - 3:00 P.M.
Edison Box Office - (314) 935-6543
Senior, WU Fac/Staff: $20
Students and Youth: $10
Wash U students free (limit one per ID)
Scott Schoonover - Conductor
Lindsey Anderson, soprano as Lucrezia Borgia
Jacob Lassetter, baritone as Rodrigo Borgia
Andrew Potter, bass as Cesare Borgia
John Kanklides, tenor as Narcisio
Composer: Harold Blumenfeld
Librettist: Charles Kondek
Borgia Infami depicts the lives, loves and crimes of the notorious Borgia family. The opera focuses upon Rodrigo, who becomes the brilliant and corrupt Pope Alexander VI; his son Cesare, whose ruthless pursuit of power is immortalized in Machiavelli’s writings; and, finally, Lucrezia, the Duchess of Ferrara, Rodrigo’s beautiful daughter, and alleged poisoner of the family’s enemies. The action unfolds on dual levels, alternating historical fact with Victor Hugo’s hyper melodramatic portrayal of Lucrezia. She has given birth to an illegitimate son, a product of suspected incest, inside the Vatican walls. After being separated at birth, the boy matures into a virtuous young officer driven by two passions: to find his lost mother and a burning hatred for the Borgias. All the while, Lucrezia has lovingly watched over him from a distance, writing him anonymously. However, unwittingly she comes to poison him and his Borgia-hostile comrades. Out of shock and desperation she mortally stabs herself and, as she perishes, reveals her true identity to her son. After perishing together, her crimes are absolved through her selfless maternal devotion. Ingeniously, the librettist has connected all of this to the present.
Borgia Infami is a singers’ opera with arias emerging into duets, trios, and a sextet. This opera features violence, mayhem, and death. The auto da fe of Savonarola is presented, along with a scene of inebriation interrupted by the death chant of approaching monks, scenes of impassioned filial love, and street urchins for comic relief. In addition to the various scenes of overflowing emotion there are moments of wistful simplicity such as Lucrezia in her convent, with a Bingen-like women's chant in the background. The opera opens to a scene featuring a vast fresco of the coronation of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope coming alive to commence the opera.
Harold Blumenfeld Biography:
Born Oct. 15, 1923, in Seattle, Harold Blumenfeld studied at the Eastman School of Music from 1941-43. During World War II, he served as an interpreter in the U.S. Army Signal Corp, and was present at the liberation of Ohrdruf, the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops.
Blumenfeld remained in Europe after the war, deploying his language skills to help identify former members of the Nazi Party. He then resumed his studies at the University of Zurich and at Yale University, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Yale, in 1948 and 1949 respectively. Over the next four summers, he trained as a conductor with Robert Shaw and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1950, Blumenfeld joined the faculty of Washington University, where he taught until his retirement in 1989. From 1960-71, he directed the Washington University Opera Studio and, from 1962-66, also directed Opera Theatre of St. Louis. An active music critic, he regularly wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Opera News and other publications.
Blumenfeld’s own compositions include Fourscore: An Opera of Opposites (1986) and Breakfast Waltzes (1991), both with librettist Charles Kondek, as well as vocal settings of works by Harold Hart Crane, Derek Walcott, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Rainer Maria Rilke and Osip Mandelstam.
Blumenfeld was the first composer to devote extensive attention to the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, beginning with a setting of “Being Beauteous” (c. 1980) and culminating in the two-act opera Seasons in Hell (1996), which traces Rimbaud’s adolescent adventures and disastrous fortune-seeking in Africa.
In 2001, Blumenfeld and Kondek completed Borgia Infami, an opera based on the notorious Renaissance family. In 2007, Blumenfeld recorded Vers Sataniques, based on Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil,” with the National Radio Orchestra of Poland.
Charles Kondek Biography:
The Chicago Tribune in its review of The Fan, an opera commissioned and produced by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, written by librettist Charles Kondek, called Mr. Kondek "a shrewd man of theater." Charles Kondek is the recipient of the prestigious Marc Blitzstein Memorial Award in Music Theatre presented by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to Borgia Infami, his collaborations with composer Harold Blumenfeld include the farcical ensemble opera Fourscore, the opera-bagatelle Breakfast Waltzes, and the Seasons in Hell, whose libretto was described by the American Record Guide as “an ingenious display of literary virtuosity.” The Cincinnati Enquirer called the opera “a fascinating coming-together of words, music and imagery.”
New York Magazine proclaimed Esther, written with the Hugo Weisgall and premiered by the New York City Opera, “a work that can now be placed among the very finest operas we have,” and Time Magazine termed Esther “a powerful evening of music theatre.” Martin Bernheimer of the Los Angeles Times suggested the work “may be a masterpiece.”
Kondek also wrote the libretto for Between Two Worlds, with music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran, commissioned and produced by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Kondek and Ran are finishing up a new version of The Diary of Anne Frank, which will premiere in 2020 at Indiana University.