There is always a temptation to view the past with rose-tinted spectacles. In this case it is well-nigh impossible not to wish one was in the audience experiencing Janet Baker and Rosalind Plowright sparking off each other, while a young John Tomlinson demonstrated his prowess in Donizetti.
But first to the shots of the similarly younger Charles Mackerras, clear and fairly dynamic in the opening measures, and encouraging the clarinetist to make the expressive solos really special. Orchestrally, the opening of Act 2 is impressive, superbly played and with all concerned thoroughly communing with the spirit of Donizetti. Whilst it is true that chorus and orchestra are initially not unanimous, there is plenty of spirit there. Read more />
The staging is vintage ENO. Plowright (Queen Elizabeth I) is powdered in make-up and magisterial in voice. Mackerras shades the recitative accompaniments from the very beginning with real sensitivity, yet it is Plowright's aria, 'If fortune one day' that impresses in its slowly impressive dignity. Her presence is huge, and it comes across on DVD in no uncertain fashion. Throughout the opera, Plowright reveals the Queen to be a multi-dimensional, complex character.
Act 2 is set very darkly. It is here Janet Baker gets her chance to shine, and she is absolutely radiant. This is a true reminder of her stature, as she paints a truly psychological portrait of the troubled titular heroine. The exchanges between Mary and the Queen actually represent the performance climax of the DVD, with Plowright at her imperious best. Baker looks as if she is about to explode during the confrontation, and when she explodes her lines are delivered with real venom. Perhaps it is in Act 3 that Baker is at her finest ... or nearly – the closing minutes of the opera are unforgettable. The second scene of Act 3 sees her positively dripping sadness, while vocally what impresses most is that her intervals are so pure. Her voice is so free, one gets the impression she could express anything.
Those closing minutes of the opera mentioned above include a prayer from Baker that is truly lovely – as all kneel, she floats a line over the ensemble that is unforgettable.
Alan Opie is a persuasive Sir William Cecil, being absolutely believable in his important contributions to Act 3 in his scenes with the Queen. In fact it is the pairings during this opera (Baker/Plowright; Baker/Tomlinson etc) that are the stuff that dreams are made of. That ENO's strength is its company status is a truism that sometimes is used to apologise for the lack of true stars. When those stars are present in tandem with this sense of community - as is the case here - the results are pure magic.
David Rendall's Leicester is on the bleaty side, a reminder perhaps that ENO is not always this good, yet even his game raises inevitably in the very closing stages. Angela Bostock is youthful-looking and excellent. Of course the chorus is marvellous. The recorded sound is remarkably clear and immediate.
Absolutely magnificent, a treasurable document of what must have been a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. And if there is anyone out there who doubts that Donizetti can be a composer of real depth, buy this. It will change your mind.
-- Colin Clarke, MusicWeb International
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
NTSC, Region 1. Read less
Works on This Recording
Maria Stuardaby Gaetano Donizetti Performer:
Dame Janet Baker (Alto),
David Rendall (Tenor),
John Tomlinson (Bass Baritone),
Rosalind Plowright (Mezzo Soprano),
Alan Opie (Baritone),
Angela Bostock (Soprano)
Sir Charles Mackerras
English National Opera Orchestra,
English National Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1835; Italy Date of Recording: 1982 Language: English
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Old, but very very good..December 10, 2014By M. Mckno Bottrall (PORT PIRIE, SA)See All My Reviews"Originating the 1980's this has to be one of Dame Janet Baker's finest efforts. She really excels in this role, being both supplicant and demanding in turn. the supporting cast are all very good, both in voice and acting. A really worth while disc of this tragic opera."Report Abuse
Bel Canto FanDecember 25, 2011By Perry S. (New Plymouth, -)See All My Reviews"The opera is sung in English, but it still helps to have the subtitles on. This is a drama in which the two queens, Elizabeth and Mary, are sung with conviction and make it the success it undoubtably is. A version I highly recommend."Report Abuse
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