Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Maria Stuarda (1835)
Laura Polveretti (mezzo) - Elisabetta; Maria Pia Piscitelli (soprano) - Maria Stuarda; Giovanna Lanza (mezzo) - Anna Kennedy; Roberto De Blasio (tenor) - Roberto, Conte di Leicester; Simone Alberghini (bass-baritone) - Talbot; Mario Cassi (baritone) - Cecil; Coro Lirico Marchigiano ’V Bellini’, FORM Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Riccardo Frizza
rec. live, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 3 August 2007
The Italian libretto is available at www.naxos.com/libretti/660261.htm
NAXOS 8.660261-62 [60:41 + 55:55]
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.
Donizetti didn’t want to give in, and after negotiations, carried out by his publisher Ricordi, Maria Stuarda was 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 in Lucia, 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, which 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 truce apparato (CD 2 tr. 9).
Laura Polverelli is a vibrant Elisabetta, dramatic, powerful and expressive and her opening aria Ah! Quando all’ara scorgemi and the following cabaletta Ah! Dal ciel discenda have a certain thrill, though she is sometimes a bit clumsy. The duet with Leicester, Era d’amor l’immagine that 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 (CD 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 Hugill