With his sharp and lively conducting, Fabrizio Maria Carminati puts the Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice entirely at the service of three exceptional singers, Sonia Ganassi ("an extraordinary performance," Opera Today) as Elisabetta, Fiorenza Cedolins ("colorful, nuanced, highly dramatic heroine," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) as Maria Stuarda, and José Bros as a passionate Leicester. "Maria Stuarda" is the most popular work in Donizetti's trilogy of bel canto operas on Tudor queens.
Maria Stuarda is one third of the so-called "three queen" trilogy that defined much of the career of Beverly Sills (along with Lucia, the three Hoffmann heroines, and Manon) in the early 1970s. It was quite an undertaking, and each–Stuarda, Anna Bolena, and Roberto Devereux–was recorded by the since-disapppeared ABC Audio Treasury Series. For reasons opera lovers have been wondering about for years, the recordings went out of print pretty quickly; but now, handsomely remastered, they are making their first appearance on CD, both individually and as a three-opera set. Stuarda also has been recorded by Joan Sutherland and Janet Baker (in a version Donizetti prepared for the lower-voiced Maria Malibran), and there are at least three "private" sets I know of with Montserrat Caballé in the title role.
On New Year’s Eve 2012 Joyce DiDonato became the first singer to take the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. With her at its heart, the production became, in the words of Opera magazine, “a high point of the season and of the company’s performance history of bel canto operas”.
This opera becomes a battle of the divas in its great second act, with Sutherland, as Mary Stuart, pitted against the jealous, paranoid, and vengeful Elizabeth I (Tourangeau). There is an intensely dramatic confrontation in which insults are violently exchanged between the powerful monarch and her imprisoned but still regal rival to the throne. Mary wins the battle of insults, but this is a dangerous victory over one who has the power of life and death. Elizabeth orders Mary's execution and Act III becomes a spectacle of pathos and horror. Sutherland's usual style is more attuned to pathos than to the swapping of insults, but she rises splendidly to the challenges of Act II and she has a splendid supporting cast. (Joe McLellan)
How this opera grows in the affections. And how it strengthens the larger, ever-deepening appreciation not merely of Donizetti's work but of operatic conventions as such. I mean that the frequently derided forms of opera (the set pieces, aria-and-cabaletta and so forth) can increasingly be a source of pleasure and of perceived power in the writing. Here, for instance, part of the exhilaration arises out of the composer's skill in suiting the conventions to his dramatic and musical purposes. Elizabeth's first aria, meditatively hopeful yet anxious, fits the lyric-cantabile form; then the arrival of Talbot and Cecil with their opposing influences provokes the intensified turbulence of irresolution that makes dramatic sense out of the cabaletta. It is so with the duets and ensembles: they look like conventional set-pieces, but established form and specific material have been so well fitted that, with the musical inspiration working strongly (as it is here), you have opera not in its naive stage awaiting development towards freedom from form but, on the contrary, opera at the confident height of a period in its history when it was entirely true to itself.
Two queens on one island. A recipe for disaster. Especially as both have a legitimate claim to the other’s throne. They are, after all, related… So the power politics are the name of the game. And, for reasons of state, one of the heads that wears a crown has to roll…
The composition of Maria Stuarda was fraught with complications. After the completion of Lucrezia Borgia in 1833 the librettist Felice Romani withdrew from further collaborations and Donizetti, who was already contracted for a production at San Carlo in Naples, more or less in panic engaged the amateur poet Giuseppe Bardari in Romani’s place. The music was composed during the summer of 1834 and in September the dress rehearsal took place. The following day, however, the King of Naples cancelled the performance of the opera on the grounds that ‘the presentation of operas and ballets of tragic arguments should always be prohibited’. Donizetti reworked his opera into Boundelmonte in less than a fortnight, the premiere took place on 14 October with the action moved from Tudor England to Renaissance Italy. It was not a success.– Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Despite having to mentor a 17-year-old law student through the versifying of the libretto for Maria Stuarda 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)…FANFARE: Bill White
All of these are live recordings so the sound is quite variable. The standard square box contains separate soft plastic sleeves in which the cds are inserted. The advantage is that the cds are well protected (minor risk for scrapes compared to cardboard), but there is no information printed on the sleeve since it is made of plastic. There is some basic information printed on each cd (name, composer, cd #, the act/s and the date of the recording). There is also a small 24pg booklet that introduces the box including some photos as well as content description for each disc (opera, singers, time and location as well as a list of the separate tracks). I have been collecting these boxes for a while and always find it worthwhile as there are gems nicely interspersed in these collections. By Moonfish
Despite the obvious advantage of hearing Beverly Sills in one of her celebrated Three Queens roles, for many opera aficionados there will be an almost equal attraction in being able to hear Eileen Farrell as Elisabetta. She was an under-recorded artist who curtailed her opera career early and there is a special thrill in haring her huge, slightly unwieldy dramatic soprano negotiate Donizetti's florid lines. Her voice obviously contrasts strongly with Sills' lyric coloratura soprano and even though I prefer the great mezzo Dame Janet Baker above all as the doomed Mary Stewart, as long as there is sufficient contrast between the two queens the drama works..