Good second-tier Donizetto, well sung
R. Broadhead | Southwestern USA | 08/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maria Padilla was Donizetti's 61st opera. First performed at La Scala in 1841, it was performed (according to the accompanying booklet) on a regular basis until 1848, after which it remained unperformed for 115 years. It was revived for a performance in London in 1973, apparently this live recording.
Maria Padilla is based on true events surrounding Pedro, King of Castile (Spain) from 1350 to 1369. The characters in the opera are all based on historical figures. For brevity, I'll not summarize the plot, but the music and the recording instead.
The cast is excellent. Janet Price makes a beautiful and expressive Maria Padilla and Christian du Plessis makes an impressive Pedro with his golden voice that is always under control. Mezzo Margreta Elkins makes an enjoyable and very solid Ines Padilla. Of special interest to residents of the southwestern U.S. will be the villanous character of Don Alfonso, the Duke of Albuquerque (the city in Spain not New Mexico - role sung well by Malcom King). The other singers are enjoyable and effective as well.
This opera is a bit unusual for Donizetti in that the character of some of the music fits the environment of its setting, Castillian Spain. In places, the music has a noticeable Spanish tinge to it and represents an attempt by Donizetti to melodically branch out a bit. There are some really beautiful arias and duets, especially one duet for Maria and Ines (soprano and mezzo combo). Other parts of the music, however, are formulaic Italianate Donizetti - not a bad thing certainly but it gives the impression that Donizetti either produced this opera on a tight schedule or perhaps that he was running out of ideas or inspiration at this late point in his career.
The audience in this recording is well behaved but applauds most enthusiastically after some truly gorgeous arias and duets that are stunningly sung. The Opera Rara Chorus and Bourenmouth Sinfonietta under the direction of Kenneth Montgomery are quite good. Overall, the sound is very good. The one however (and this is a big however) is that the sound breaks up noticeably when the sound becomes very loud. So everything will be cruising along quite enjoyably and then when the orchestra plays to a crescendo or the singers sing to a crescendo the sound breaks up for a very short period (generally two to five seconds), but afterwards returns to good quality. This is a shame, because otherwise the sound quality is very good and the performance is excellent. I'd really like to give this recording a five-star rating because of the music, singing quality and historical importance, but downgrade it to four stars because of the intermittent sound problem.
So, this is an enjoyable opera but it is not one of Donizetti's best efforts such as Lucia, Fille du Regiment, or Elixir of Love. Still, it ranks well above what most others were producing in the mid-1800's and makes a nice way to investigate the lesser known works of this great composer and will also let you hear Donizetti's impression of Spain. Certainly the opera is too good to have languished without performance for 115 years and shows us just how much fine music is out there that has been forgotten! And as the first apparent performance in 115 years, it is an historical recording.
The written booklet that accompanies the recording offers a brief but very informative and scholarly synopsis of the opera's plot and the events surrounding Donizetti's writing of this music. At this price, the booklet does not offer a libretto, but does indicate a title for each track and which characters sing on each track, which is very helpful."