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.
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
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
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