To a stiflingly hot Cirque Royale this evening to see La Monnaie’s new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, with a mise-en-scène by Guy Joosten. It is the season of coughs and colds. Singers are as vulnerable as anybody else. But when do you pull the plug on a performance and refund the audience or re-schedule? This evening Lucrezia Borgia herself (soprano Elena Mosuc) was so ill that she could not even take the stage to mime. Her notoriously demanding role was admirably sung by one lady (we didn’t catch the name) and physically replaced on the stage by another (Joosten’s assistant) but, not knowing the libretto, the latter did not try to mime. It was, for us, an absence too far, which was a distracting shame. This is Joosten’s fourth femme fatale (after Lucia di Lammermoor, Elektra and Salome) and Borgia’s passively mute presence fatally undermined Donizetti’s (and Joosten’s) portrayal of the smouldering dynamics and vicious undertows surrounding Lucrezia Borgia. I have written before about the temptation to engage in gimmicks and more-or-less otiose references to popular culture and they were here a-plenty: the droogs from Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, pigs’ masks – from the Saw horror movies maybe?, nuns wearing sexy underwear, an ubiquitous revolver, and gratuitous representations of the sexual act. The real Lucrezia Borgia, ancestress of, among others, Juan Carlos I of Spain, Albert II of Belgium and Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, almost certainly got an unfair press but as a character this treacherously obsessive poisoner is a fascinating creation, the original fatal attraction.