Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Also available on standard DVD
Fabrizio Maria Carminati, cond; Fiorenza Cedolins (
); Sonia Ganassi (
class="ARIAL12">); José Bros (
); Mirco Palazzi (
); Marco Caria (
); Pervin Chakar (
); La Fenice O & Ch
C MAJOR 704304 (Blu-ray: 140:00) Live: Venice 2009
Despite having to mentor a 17-year-old law student through the versifying of the libretto for
in 1834, when it was finally finished Gaetano Donizetti believed that he and the young man, Giuseppe Bardari, had created a powerful and high-quality opera for the eagerly expectant Naples public. He was quite disappointed then, when the Bourbon King of Naples absolutely refused to allow its performance (the King’s wife was a distant descendant of the Catholic Stewart queen, whom many Italians considered a martyr to her religion). Troubling to the censors was not only the subject of a beheaded Catholic royal, but also the strongly emotional and bitter interchange between the two queens in their act II confrontation at Fotheringhay Castle (an interchange that historically never occurred; the two queens never met in real life). Maria’s forceful expletive of “Vil bastarda” is just the highlight of a quite nasty exchange of insults between the two regal ladies. The great diva Maria Malibran did Donizetti no favors by insisting on singing the original text when the opera premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1835, despite the censors’ objections. As might be expected, the opera was promptly yanked off the stage again and gained no other success in Donizetti’s lifetime.
It has been only since the resurrection from oblivion of
at a performance in Bergamo in 1958, the discovery of the autograph score in 1987, and the subsequent publication of a critical edition by Anders Wiklund that the opera has been performed in anything like the state conceived by its two Italian creators, and the opera world has at last come to appreciate how powerful a dramatic and musical work it is. Not only Malibran but the greatest coloratura divas of recent times, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, and Edita Gruberova, have had a go at the title role, the latter three to good effect on audio recordings. There have also been several videos, including this latest one from Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 2009.
Although there are four different settings for the action in the libretto—Elisabetta’s residence at Windsor, a woods-ringed park outside Fotheringhay Castle, Maria’s private chamber in the castle, and a large common room next to the execution chamber—this production has only one set, a rather ludicrous thigh-high rat maze made out of wood panels that forces singers entering and leaving to zigzag back and forth, filling the stage with motion. Perhaps this is for the best, since there is little enough action in the opera, but like most of the video sets since 2000, the stage designer and producer seem to have forgotten what merrie olde England might have looked like. Costumes are generic and rather ugly for the women, the director apparently using colors to help us delineate the ladies’ emotions: jealous orange for Elisabeth (really?), passionate red for Maria in act II, and white for her expiation scene in act III. Men wear generic frock coats, the male chorus vaguely military attire, the court women ugly headpieces. The Maria, Fiorenza Cedolins, sings pretty well after she gets warmed up in her double aria to start act II. No coloratura soprano, Cedolins sticks pretty much to the score with little or no embellishment, but she hits all the high notes solidly and gives a pretty good account without making anyone forget the trio of Scottish queens mentioned above. Sonia Ganassi is excellent here as Elisabetta and perhaps looks and acts a bit more regal than in her previous appearance in the role on DVD from Bergamo in 2001 (I understand she was pregnant during this video recording). The tenor, José Bros, is rather a light-voiced Leicester to be the amorous foil for these two powerful women, and his tone can turn a bit unpleasant at times. Mirco Palazzi sings very well as Talbot, but seems much too young to be a queen’s minister. The smaller roles of Cecil and Anna are handled competently by Marco Caria and Pervin Chakar. The Blu-ray visuals are stunning, so much more focused and detailed than regular DVD, the color more vivid, the action seemingly more lifelike and better able to draw you into the drama. I recently watched the 3-D
appearing in theaters, and the 3-D effect did not offer nearly as significant an upgrade in viewing as the high-definition Blu-ray.
Of other videos, I have seen the DVD with Carmela Remigo and Ganassi from Bergamo. Remigo sings pretty well as Maria, but I would give Cedolins the edge here. Joseph Calleja is much better than Bros as Leicester, but the other singers are weaker. Sets at Bergamo are marginally better (and there are more of them). Rather a toss-up, I’m afraid. I viewed the 2008 production from La Scala in the movie theater and remember that both ladies, Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci, sing well, but the production is saddled with cage-like metal bars at the back and sides of the set, almost the same staging used for the 2007 video from Macerata. Someone needs to send some interior shots of British castles to these folks. Maybe they just don’t have the budgets for it.
There are no extras with this set. Sound formats are PCM stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1, some kind of upgrade from normal DTS surround, I would assume. Sound is very good although no real hall ambience is discernable. The booklet includes a short essay in three languages and an even shorter synopsis along with track listings. Subtitles are in English, German, French, and Spanish. This set appears to be about as good as any of the others and the Blu-ray video is quite addictive. The critical edition is used but in two acts instead of three. The three coloratura queens on CD all sing better, but Donizetti’s music makes just about any performance of
enjoyable. Recommended despite caveats.
FANFARE: Bill White
Works on This Recording
Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti
Marco Palazzi (Bass),
José Bros (Tenor),
Sonia Ganassi (Mezzo Soprano),
Marco Caria (Baritone),
Fiorenza Cedolins (Soprano)
Fabrizio Maria Carminati
Venice Teatro la Fenice Orchestra,
Venice Teatro la Fenice Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
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