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
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.
Donizetti didn’t want to give in, and after negotiations,
carried out by his publisher Ricordi, Maria Stuarda
mounted at La Scala in December 1835. Again it was not a success
at the premiere but was played half a dozen times each time with
a better reception. Then the censors interfered and the work
disappeared, even though it was played in the Italian provinces
and also in Naples in 1865.
It took almost a century before it was unearthed and played at
the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo in 1958 and also in Stuttgart
a few years later. It was not until the St Pancras Festival in
1966 that it became established and since then it has been one
of the more popular of Donizetti’s operas.
It is based on Schiller’s play but is pared down to more
manageable dimensions, reducing the number of characters from
twenty-one to six. The confrontation between the two queens has
no historical reliability; it was Schiller’s invention.
Musically it is one of Donizetti’s best and points forward
to Verdi, whose first opera was only four years away. Maybe the
melodies are not as immediately memorable as, for instance, those
, but they are dramatically efficient and attractive
in their own right. The quality of an opera can often be judged
from the number of recordings, and next to Lucia
is supreme, Maria Stuarda
is among the contenders. Of
the studio recordings one can choose between Beverly Sills, Joan
Sutherland and Edita Gruberova in the title role. There is also
a live recording in English from the ENO with Janet Baker as
Maria. The present set boasts no superstars but on the other
hand there is an all-Italian cast, which lends authenticity.
Riccardo Frizza conducts a wholly idiomatic performance with
sensible tempos. He is well assisted by the orchestra. The chorus
is also good, though there are some over-vibrant sopranos that
tend to stick out, but not to such a degree that their presence
ruins the enjoyment. They are at their best in the chorus that
opens the final scene of the opera: Vedeste? Vedemmo … Qual
(CD 2 tr. 9).
Laura Polverelli is a vibrant Elisabetta, dramatic, powerful
and expressive and her opening aria Ah! Quando all’ara
and the following cabaletta Ah! Dal ciel discenda
a certain thrill, though she is sometimes a bit clumsy. The duet
with Leicester, Era d’amor l’immagine
finishes act I, is one of the best numbers in the opera and it
is sung with feeling and some elegance by both singers. Even
better is the third act aria Quella vita.
Roberto De Biasio
takes some time to warm up, singing ably but not in a way that
is particularly ingratiating in the first act. In the second
act he is much more sensitive and in act III he is really very
good. Maria, who doesn’t appear until act II, is sung by
Maria Pia Piscitelli, who has a full, rounded voice which is
nicely contrasted with Polverelli’s. O nube! Che lieve
1 tr. 14) is very good but she sweeps the board in act III with Quando
di luce rosea
(CD 2 tr. 7). Simone Alberghini is a rather
shaky Talbot, while Mario Cassi is a competent Cecil.
The recorded sound is very good and the balance between stage
and pit realistic. There are inevitably some stage noises and
applause. These have not been edited out but their presence contributes
to the feeling of a real performance.
Of the two sets that I own I prefer the one with Beverly Sills
(now available on Brilliant Classics 93963 at super-budget price),
a set that also boasts the absolutely magnificent Eileen Farrell
as Elisabetta and a fine Leicester, sung by Stuart Burrows. Sutherland
on Decca is less expressive than Sills, and Huguette Tourangeau
can’t compete in vocal opulence with Farrell. Pavarotti’s
Leicester is brilliantly sung but Burrows is more stylish. The
present set is attractive for the singing of the two prima donnas
and the tenor and is the most idiomatically Italian of them all.
At the usual give-away Naxos price it is well worth the investment.
see also review by Robert