Notes and Editorial Reviews
Elisabetta – Anna Caterina Antonacci
Maria Stuarda – Mariella Devia
Anna Kennedy – Paola Gardina
Roberto – Francesco Meli
Giorgio Talbot – Simone Alberghini
Lord Guglielmo Cecil – Pietro Terranova
La Scala Chorus and Orchestra
Antonino Fogliani, conductor
Pier Luigi Pizzi, stage director, set design, costumes
Recorded live from the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 2008
Maria Stuarda – backstage.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 138 mins + 13 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
Composed five years after his Anna Bolena, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda does not quite reach the level of through-composed sophistication or pathos as the earlier opera; but it is a great work nonetheless. Within the conventions of aria-cabaletta Donizetti still manages to vary mood thoroughly, with Maria's final scene a masterpiece of changing form and expression. And he has, at the end of the second act, one of his greatest trump cards: the invented-by-Schiller, hair-raising (and hair-pulling) confrontation between the lovely Mary and the harridan-like Elizabeth I in Fotheringay Park. I have always wanted to believe that if the two had met, it would have turned out precisely the way Schiller envisioned it--and the way Donizetti composed it.
The opera had a stormy birth, with many revisions required to satisfy the censors, and even the "final" premiere, on December 30, 1835, starring Maria Malibran, was troubled: the singer was indisposed. And then, after a few successful performances, the censors again dropped by and stopped the show, and the opera was not heard again until 1958. It was soon championed by Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Janet Baker, and Beverly Sills in the sympathetic title role, with an equally impressive collection of singers as Elisabetta. This DVD, recorded at La Scala in January, 2008, and directed, designed, and costumed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, stars two of today's bel canto specialists, Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci.
Antonacci, whom I had just seen on a DVD starring as Carmen, seems able to sing anything, and she handles Elisabetta's somewhat angular but highly decorated music handsomely. An attractive woman and formidable stage presence, she is costumed alternately in ghastly orange drapery and ghastly white and black riding gear, with severe white make-up. While looking nothing like any portrait of Elisabeth I've ever seen (unlike Beverly Sills as Elisabetta in her video of Roberto Devereux, which is frighteningly imitative), she certainly could scare the animals. She is not the cleanest of bel cantists, occasionally smudging runs and making some nasty sounds, but hers is a thoroughly satisfying, vicious, vindictive portrayal.
As her opposite, the supposedly beautiful (hence the jealousy of Elisabeth) Maria, Mariella Devia is vocally ideal, but the close-ups do not altogether help: she is, um.... mousy. That aside, and although she is also dressed unflatteringly in a gray that could make a sidewalk look colorful, from the moment she begins to sing her first aria we know we are in the presence of the lovelier of the two women. Donizetti's writing for Maria is sympathetic and melodic, unlike Elisabetta's, and Devia spins out the graceful tunes with ease and poise, adding spectacular--and secure--high notes to her lines and, of course, final cadences.
The confrontation itself, in which Mary calls Elizabeth a "vile bastard", is as stunning as it ought to be, with the women sparring and matching each other, venomous outburst for venomous outburst. On CD, only Caballé and Verrett (on various "private" labels) and Sills and Farrell (on Decca) outdo these two--quite a compliment. (Sutherland sounds a bit tame and Huguette Tourangeau, though dramatically viable, sounds as if her voice is coming through a cavity other than her mouth; they also provide the soundtrack for an abridged, bizarre DVD version on Image Entertainment that stars some Czech actors mouthing the words.) Devia's lengthy final scenes are exquisite; she sings gloriously and acts with dignity, with lovely pianissimos and powerful eruptions. Her ready-for-execution red dress is very impressive.
The tenor role, Roberto, Conte di Leicester, is somewhat unsympathetic, and the vocal line sits right in the tenor's passaggio--E, F, G, A-flat--with only occasional flights to B-natural. Francseco Meli cuts a dashing figure, sings directly on the text, and handles the awkward transitions very well. As Maria's confessor, Giorgio Talbot, bass-baritone Simone Alberghini's dry tone does not help, but he is a compassionate figure nonetheless. Piero Terranova's Lord Cecil helps to inflame Elisabetta. All the men are in black, sometimes frilled, sometimes leathered, always formal.
Pizzi's sets consist of black bars, horizontal and vertical, and long staircases that meet at center stage, with a slate gray bench or two thrown in for, well, sitting (or standing on, as Maria does at one point). This prison-like motif is broken only at the start of the Fotheringay scene, when the bars are replaced for a few moments by trees that disappear as soon as Elisabetta enters. The effect actually works. Pizzi's direction, particularly of the two women in their knock-down scene, is telling and true. Conductor Antonino Fogliani leads a taut, exciting performance that holds together even in rambunctious moments, with Maria's tenderness underscored nicely in her solo scenes.
The only video competition (besides the Czech production mentioned above) is on Dynamic, with Carmela Remigio and Sonia Ganassi (from Bergamo) as under-par protagonists in an ugly production. I wonder what happened to the VHS version from the English National Opera with Dame Janet Baker and Rosalind Plowright--it was splendid. Arthaus' picture and sound are first rate and subtitles are available in all major European languages. The direction for small screen is excellent; we see reactions for every action. This is highly recommended.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti
Mariella Devia (Soprano),
Paola Gardina (Mezzo Soprano),
Francesco Meli (Tenor),
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Soprano),
Simone Alberghini (Bass)
Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
Date of Recording: 2008
Venue: Teatro alla Scala, Milan
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