Lucrezia Borgia

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Lucrezia Borgia is the name of a historic fi9gure, as well as the title of a large number of works telling or based on the history of the character.

The name also occurs as Lucrezia Borgia, Lucrèce Borgia, or Lucretia Borgia.

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)[1]: the person

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)[2] was a Spanish-Italian noblewoman of the House of Borgia and the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Born on 18 April 1480 she reigned as the Governor of Spoleto, a position usually held by cardinals, in her own right. She had several marriages that advanced the family's political position including marriages to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Gradara, Count of Catignola; Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and Prince of Salerno; and Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that her brother Cesare Borgia may have had him murdered after his political value waned. Lucrezia died on 24 June 1519.

Rumors about her and her family cast Lucrezia as a femme fatale, a role in which she has been portrayed in many artworks, novels and films[3].

Stage representations of the story of Lucrezia Borgia

Below we discuss such stage texts as have been seen in South Africa.

Lucrèce Borgia by Victor Hugo (1833)

A French play by Victor Hugo (1802-1885)[4], based on the various stories about of Spanish-Italian noblewoman , Hugo's play consists of 15 scenes in 3 acts. It was initially called Le Festin à Ferrare ("the feast at Ferrara") and was written in July of 1832, possibly being altered slightly before the production. The play was first performed at the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin on 2 February, 1833, with the mise en scène by Hugo himself with the leading actor, Frédérick Lemaitre, and music by Alexandre Piccinni. The text was published in Paris by Eugène Renduel, 1833.

Hugo's version of the story led to a number of other stage versions, including Donizetti's famous opera and a play by J.M. Weston - both produced in South Africa.

Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti

Felice Romani based his Italian libretto for Gaetano Donizetti's (1797-1848)[5] melodramatic opera Lucrezia Borgia (in a prologue and two acts) on Hugo's play. The opera was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan.

Lucretia Borgia by J.M. Weston

The French text was adapted as a three act English drama called Lucretia Borgia ("A Drama in Three Acts : Adapted from the French of Victor Hugo ") by J.M. Weston, a stage manager and comedian in New Orleans, and first produced professionally in the St Charles Theatre, New Orleans in 1844 by the author himself. It then played at the Fedral Street Theatre, and various other venues in Boston from 1847 onwards, and made its Broadway appearance in 1855. The text first published in New York by Samuel French (as no CCL of French's Standard Drama, circa 1865) and in London by J. Dicks (circa 1880).

Performance history in South Africa

Performances of plays and burlesques

1866: Performed as Lucretia Borgia by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 29 January, with A Duel in the Dark (Coyne) as afterpiece. Bosman (1980) suggests this was probably the Weston version, though the next performance (on the 15th of March) bills it as a "laughable Ethiopian farce", which seems to suggest that it was rather a burlesque version of the Donizetti opera. Given the company's normal fare, the latter sounds the more likely.

1867: Performed as Lucretia Borgia by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 31 January, with Mrs Green's Snug Little Business (Cheltnam) as afterpiece.

Performances of the opera

1869: Performed tin the Mutual Hall, Cape Town by the Miranda-Harper Company .


Facsimile version of the Samuel French edition of the English text by Weston, Hathi Trust Digital Library[6]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.201-3, 206-7, 210-211, 220, 222, 294, 298.

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