(1797 - 1848)
Maria Stuarda - Lyric tragedy in two acts (1834)
Maria Stuarda (Mary Queen of Scots, imprisoned in England) - Fiorenza
Elizabetta (Queen of England) - Sonia Ganassi (mezzo)
Roberto, conte di Leicester (Earl of Leicester) - José Bros
Giorgio Talbot (Earl of Shrewsbury) - Mirco Palazzi (bass)
Lord Guglielmo Cecil (Lord High Treasurer) - Marco Caria (baritone)
Anna Kennedy (Mary’s nurse) - Pervin Chakar
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice/Fabrizio Maria Carminati
rec. live, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 30 April-3 May 2009
Stage Direction, Sets, Costumes and Lighting Design: Denis Krief
Filmed in High Definition. Mastered from an HD Source
Picture Format: NTSC 16:9
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0 (Worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
UNITEL CLASSICA/C MAJOR 704208
The remarkable history of this opera includes the infamous fisticuffs
at the very first orchestral rehearsal. The original director
overlooked the simmering animosity between his leading ladies.
Maria Stuarda calls her rival queen, Elizabetta, a ‘vile
bastard’ and such was the ferocity of delivery by Giuseppina
Ronzi de Begnis, as Maria, that Anna del Serre as Elizabetta,
responded with fists and hair-pulling. De Begnis hit back with
such force that Anna del Serre departed the theatre. Meanwhile,
the plot came to the ears of the King who banned it: too close
to home for comfort with his wife descended from Maria Stuarda.
It almost disappeared off the operatic radar until performed
after Donizetti’s death. Then it languished for a century
or so until a 1958 revival: but its real renaissance came twenty
years after that. “The discovery of the autograph in a
Swedish collection in 1987 has made possible the preparation
of an authentic edition” (A. Holden, ed. The New Penguin
Opera Guide, 2001 p.235). Since when, it has taken its regular
rightful place in the repertoire.
The apocryphal confrontation of the two queens is played here
with dramatic intensity. Sonia Ganassi (Elizabetta) portrays
the hatred and contempt for Maria Stuarda with towering vocal
passion. Fiorenza Cedolins (Maria) responds initially with supplication
followed by vocal and facial fireworks of which she is such
a remarkable exponent.
The one-set-fits-all scenes is a stage-filling labyrinth as
shown on the DVD cover above. It is not a maze: the characters
are not in a puzzle but in roles where their actions are circumscribed
by their offices of state. Although the opera’s events
are from 1587, this production is timeless in set and costumes.
Together with direction and lighting, all by Denis Krief, they
provide complementary forces that leave the audience free to
concentrate on voices and plot.
The performance by Ganassi is a tour de force. She manifests
remarkable vocal strength throughout her vocal range. She misses
not a word, with diction, dynamics and colouring second to none.
It seems invidious to select any specific aria but Quella
vita a me funesta (tr. 22), when about to sign the death
warrant, exhibits all that is glorious about her vocal and acting
strengths. From her entrance aria, with middle-note-hitting,
leaps and vocal contrasts to her dismissal of her rival queen,
she exhibits her consummate stage presence.
No less forceful is Cedolins as Maria Stuarda. A natural spitfire
who can leap around her upper tessitura with agility at forte
but who can rein back to piano to send a melting note
across stage, pit and auditorium. Although not as strong in
her chest voice, she remains totally note and line focused.
Her runs and trills are an aural joy. From her wistful O
nube! (tr. 12) through vocal fireworks of vitriol to her
moving acceptance of fate in Quando di luce rosea (tr.
27), Cedolins displays strong colouring and dynamics.
José Bros (Leicester) brings to the role his distinctive
timbre with smouldering passion and dramatic intensity. His
diction many would do well to emulate - no need on this DVD
though - as well as his strongly coloured and stage encompassing
sound. He is the master of the smooth legato. This is a mature
Leicester, not dashing around the stage, but relying on vocal
gravitas to project his character.
Together Ganassi and Bros have the power, tone, dynamic variation
and breath control to complement each other. She leads and her
courtier follows. Now she deludes herself in imagining his love
for her but is then persuaded to meet her rival from Scotland.
Thus it is also with the Maria Stuarda of Cedolins. Bros is
the mature courtier/lover endeavouring to keep her alive by
persuading her to throw herself on English regal mercy: a serious
error of judgement over-looking that royal all-consuming hatred
of her rival from Scotland. The Bros/Cedolins duet Da tutti
abbandonata (tr. 15) has everything: dynamics in spades,
each soaring above the other in turn, vocal colouring and, as
expected facial acting by Cedolins shown well in camera close-ups.
Mirco Palazzi is a quite excellent Talbot - not revealing himself
late as a priest in this production, but a priest from the start.
His superb bass-deep colouring and ringing tone brings this
role much more to the fore. He is the perfect foil for the tenor
of Bros and the soprano of Cedolins. This is a convincing priest
Marco Caria is the unenviable and possibly unloved Cecil, persuading
one queen to execute another. A hint of strain at forte, nevertheless
very persuasive and acting well with Ganassi in that restless
death warrant signature scene. As the conveyor of the warrant
he relaxes into the hypocrisy of sadness that Caria carries
well with evenness of tone and perfect diction.
Pervin Chakar sings the small but important role of Anna. Small,
with little opportunity to shine solo, but important, in her
contribution to the ensembles. Chakar has a ringing soprano
that can be heard clearly in the excellently delivered and balanced
Maestro Carminati has other productions of this opera to his
credit. Here there is a sporadic lack of co-ordination of his
forces: occasionally with timing but more frequently allowing
the orchestra to equal and not complement the events on stage.
The chorus were not on their best form: no perception of involvement
in the unfolding plot and, without the subtitles, difficult
The camera-work is unhurried, from full stage to close-up. Plenty
of time to appreciate Krief’s use of colours, from Ganassi’s
yellow costume of jealousy to Cedolins bold red jacket and skirt
- the scarlet woman or perhaps foretelling her bloody end. In
this production, she meets her end in a white strapless evening
dress and drape: virgin innocence possibly, but the opposite
of the original stage direction for black.
The lighting, with some equally effective colours, makes a significant
but welcome contribution. The labyrinth uprights and/or tops
are suffused with dramatic varying colours, matching scene and
mood. This set, with its straight lines, provides the perfect
tool for shot amalgamation showing figures in close proximity
on screen when in reality they are apart on the stage. And the
superimposing of the head and shoulders of Cedolins on a shot
of the whole stage in the final scene is a striking reminder
of her overarching presence. Such camera-work is the more effective
for its sparing use.
Taken overall this is an excellent DVD. But if you prefer a
production in sixteenth century costumes, with equally strong
queens - Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci - and a
dashing young Leicester - Franceso Meli - then try Arthaus Musik
101361. Torches for atmospheric illumination appear against
a background of prison bars various, ramps and platforms to
give different perspectives. There’s heightened tension
in the last scene with the block and executioner on-stage and
the chorus closer to their beloved, doomed, queen. Whereas orchestra
and chorus are much tauter, for me, the other soloists are not
so strong and the ensembles did not balance as well.
So, two seriously good DVDs with personal preference for queens,
supporting roles, and setting being the deciding factors. Difficult:
but on balance I prefer the DVD of this review with its thought-provoking
aspects, overall vocal balances and because the production is
so different, not detracting from, but complementing, plot and
For great detail of the history of the opera and an opposite
opinion of this production see below.
see also review by Robert
Farr of Blu-ray release