Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Gaetano Donizetti - Maria Stuarda
Listen to Samples
Royal cat fight (II)
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 01/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Live recording made in Paris on March 26, 1972.
Pretty good 1970s live mono. The French audience is generally well-disciplined, except for one or two spectacularly ill-timed and unwelcome coughs. At appropriate places, their applause and cheers are pleasingly enthusiastic.
Disk 1, Act I, tracks 1-6; Act II, tracks 7-14. Disk 2, Act III, tracks 1-11.
Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghliterra - Michele Vilma Menendez
Maria Stuarda, Regina di Scozia - Montserrat Caballe
Roberto, Conte di Leicester - Jose Carreras
Lord Guglielmo Cecil - Enrique Serra
Anna Kennedy - Ruth Bezinian
Giorgio Talbot - Maurizio Mazzieri
Nello Santi with the Lyric Orchestra and Chorus of the ORTF.
No libretto. Track list does not show timings or identify singers. Short synopses of the history of the opera and its plot. (The cover portrait shows an attractive, if stolid young woman. She is painted in a magnificently rendered gown that is both provincial and out-of-fashion. The lady is not Mary, Queen of Scots, but a member of the previous generation, Anne of Cleves. She had married Henry VIII, survived both the marriage and the man, and by a remarkable piece of Parliamentary double-think became in English law both a princess of England and Henry VIII's "sister." Contemporary references to Anne insist on her lack of beauty, while Mary's contemporaries regarded her as gorgeous. Oddly, all the portraits show Anne to be quite good-looking and Mary to be rather plain.)
This is a historical opera that in good Nineteenth Century style, rides roughshod over mere, dreary factual verisimilitude. It is based on a play by Schiller, that same bright spark who perpetrated a play in which Joan of Arc dies heroically after a final success on the battlefield (set very effectively to music by Verdi as "Giovanna d'Arco.")
The heart of the play, occupying Act II of the opera, is an extended scene in which the two queens meet and trade insults while Lord Leicester, the true and loyal lover of the Queen of Scots, looks on ineffectually. It hardly needs to be said that all this is what we here in the Frozen North call pure bumph. Dramatic potential notwithstanding, there is not a shred of evidence that such a meeting ever took place. Considering Queen Bess' habitual avoidance of irretrievable decisions, even to the point of refusing to name a successor, it is probable that such a meeting was never even given serious consideration.
And Leicester as the true lover of Mary Stuart? Not a chance! Leicester, although not highest in feudal rank, was the premiere nobleman in Elizabeth's glittering court. He was a true denizen of the Renaissance, a complex mixture of ability, self-interest, chivalry and deviousness. It is true that there had been some plans on the part of Elizabeth to advance him, willy-nilly, to serve as a consort to Mary when she still ruled in Scotland. The Queen eventually sent an Anglo-Scottish noble named Darnley instead. Young Darnley married Mary Stuart, fathered James VI of Scotland (who would eventually become James I of England), jealously slew a favorite of the Queen of Scots and, in return, got himself gorily slaughtered--just another ordinary Renaissance career. Leicester, throughout, had his eyes on a higher thing, the hand of Queen Elizabeth, herself. He never achieved it, but his maneuverings may--or may not--have included the murder of his inconvenient wife along the way.
Turning from history to opera, I believe that I can safely say that I hold a minority view when I state that I prefer the comedies of Donizetti to his dramas. As Donizetti's dramas go, however, his 1835 "Maria Stuarda" is top notch, and outshone only by the evergreen "Lucia," also from 1835. "Maria Stuarda" is a two-prima donna extravaganza centered on a knock-down, drag-out, hissing, screaming cat fight between two historic Queens. Honestly, except for a little mud wrestling, what more could anyone want?
The star of this recording is unquestionably Montserrat Caballe. Opera fans, by their very nature, are prone to nitpick and draw ultra-fine distinctions, to give wholly undue weight to stunt-singing, to trifling trills and interpolated notes flying high above the staff. It is perfectly proper that they should do so, but the detailed analysis (i.e., fault finding) should not obscure the plain fact that Caballe's Maria offers abundant riches of big-time, full-voiced, down-and-dirty, diva singing seldom matched by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Caballe is strongly seconded by Carreras, who gives the audience all that they want and more.
Caballe and Carreras are in good voice and are captured in good sound in a good opera. These two performers offer singing of such power and beauty that there really isn't any logical rating to give the recording other than five stars.
Having said that, as an opera fan, myself, I shall now nitpick. This performance is very good, but it remains some steps away from perfection. Brilliant as Montserrat Caballe was, she was always a bit too much of a lady to seize onto the ultimate in characterization. The two queens should work themselves into a frenzy of mutual loathing. Maria sneers at the daughter of Anne Boleyn, calling her "vil bastarda." I can recall restaurants in which waitresses--ahem--wait staff have asked me whether I wanted a cup of coffee with more hostility than Caballe's Maria hurls at Elisabetta.
José Carreras is a good tenor--a fabulously good tenor--but I always want to shake him and say, "Don't do that!" How I wish I could be his voice coach just long enough to tell him to relax a little. Just look at any video of Carreras. Every muscle in his upper body is tense and his throat is held in absolute rigidity. As he became older, his notes would often come to a too-abrupt close because of that rigidity. Carreras seems to have viewed singing as a job of work to faced manfully and seriously. I have no objection to a good work-ethic, but I hear little or no joy in the man's singing, only an earnestness that shades perilously toward ponderousness.
Elisabetta, the English Queen, was portrayed by Michele Vilma Menendez. Ms. Menendez was all right in her way, not bad at all, as a matter of fact--but she was clearly not in the class of her two stellar colleagues. Their quite extraordinary abilities made her, I think, sound worse to some reviewers than she really was.
All that aside, this is a fine recording at a bargain price. Every fan should have it."
Give and take from Caballe's earlier Stuarda
Armindo | Greece | 08/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Caballe's '71 Maria Stuarda (the first Stuarda available by opera d'oro) is my main standard of comparison for this '72 performance. The grand lady is still in good voice despite a couple of awkward high notes (hardly noticeable though). Her portrait of the sad queen is more seductive and a bit self-indulgent this time whereas at La Scala she sounded more innocent and the characterisation came across as more spontaneous. In Paris she is more exciting however. I find both performances good so don't hesitate to listen to either. Shame she didn't do Bolena at this stage of her career.
What we miss on this recording is a good Elisabetta. Michele Vilma gulps, wobbles and messes up the fioritura throughout the performance. With all these problems there's hardly any room for drama (or more for that matter). I wish Cossotto had considered this part. She would have been an excellent competition for Verrett's very impressive performance at La Scala.
We've lost a great Elisabetta but at least gained a luxurious Roberto. This Roberto sounds less congenial than Roberto Devereux for the young Carreras but his most handsome voice compensates for any strains. And as always with this tenor, his phrasing is perfect. Mazzieri is a fine, less famous bass who sings with style and stands out from the rest of the cast.
I found maestro Santi more interesting than Cillario at La Scala but then again, the sound of the Scala performance is inferior to this Paris one (which is very good) so I might have missed some of Cillario's details. Cheap recording, cheap booklet as usual.
GNM | 03/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you want to buy a Maria Stuarda recording, buy one with Caballe. I really don't understand why it is so underrated. People seam to like only Sills' interpretation, ignoring her way-too-light voice. Opera isn't all E-flats and other high notes. Caballe's only problem is that she can't produce a trill.(But she sang some almost, if not completely authentic trills in L'altra Notte In Fondo Al Mare, which can be found in the Caballe Great Opera Divas Disc.) And I think we can forgive this, regarding all the other qualities. Such refinement, purity, phrasing, pianissimos... Her high notes sound too strident ant caustic to some, but this is very subjective. They are not like the high notes that are generally considered to be beautiful, but in the right context they blend spectacularly: something between singing and screaming, hysteric, and in the same time pure.(High E-flat on the 1979 Stuarda performance on Munich) Some say "...when she gets excited, the result is wild and ugly..." Pity on them. There are different kinds of drama. It is not forbidden to like Callas and Caballe in the same time. Just listen to her "Figlia Impura Di Bolena" and feel the tension!"