Gennaro and his friends have been instructed to go to Ferrara on political business with the Duke, and his wife, Lucrezia Borgia. The very name ‘Borgia’ puts fear into them, as each one of them has been affected by her murderous actions. While his friends share stories, Gennaro sleeps on a bench, not wanting to listen. He is approached by a mysterious masked woman. Waking to find this beautiful woman singing of her love for him, Gennaro is deeply moved. He only loves one woman; his mother, whom he has never met. Something about this stranger brings him to think of his mother, so he tells her he must be in love with her. He is horrified to learn from his friends that this woman is his sworn enemy; Lucrezia Borgia.
In Ferrara, Gennaro shows his hatred of the Borgias, by pulling a letter off the sign in the courtyard to make it read ‘Orgia’ (meaning ‘Orgy’ in Italian). When the Duke delivers orders for him to be brought in, Gennaro thinks it is for this vandalism. He has no idea the Duke saw him professing love to his wife. Although the two men can never be friends, the Duke offers Gennaro a goblet of wine as a sign of truce. As soon as the Duke leaves, Lucrezia reveals that the wine was poisoned and gives Gennaro the antidote. She tells him to leave Ferrara and return to Venice, as the Duke will try to kill him again, if he finds him.
Before Gennaro returns to Venice, his friend Orsini persuades him to attend one last party. The wine and songs are flowing, when suddenly all of the torches go out. A woman dressed in black enters and informs them that five coffins await them; their wine was poisoned, and it is she, Lucrezia Borgia, who has killed them. Gennaro tells her she needs another coffin, as he has drunk the poison as well. Lucrezia desperately tries to get Gennaro to take the antidote again, and in her desperation she reveals the truth; he is her son, and a Borgia. Gennaro would rather die with his friends than live knowing the truth.
Based on Victor Hugo’s play Lucrece Borgia, Donizetti’s opera is an Italian period drama of intrigue, mystery, and murder, set against a beautiful bel canto score.
Lucrezia Borgia guide sections