Beverly Sills Index Page

Maria Stuarda - A Recording Review

Opera News, February 12, 1972, p. 34 by James Ringo

beverly Sills, having minted one gold sovereign with Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, now tries for another as the implacable virgin monarch’s archenemy, Mary Queen of Scots, in the same composer’s Maria Stuarda. Once again she turns out solid currency. The opera is fairly predictable for fully half its course: succeeding one another are neatly geometrical arias, duets and concerted numbers, during which we are perhaps too conscious of singing actors earnestly at play as historical personages

There are musical eminences, of course (this is mature Donizetti, after all) -in Act I an effective entrance aria for Elisabetta and engaging extended scenes for, respectively, Leicester and Talbo, Leicester and Elisabetta. But through the cracks of the music we find we are not quite convinced; we have been served an attractive concert in costume while the drama slumbers.. . After initial scene-setting in dialogue, Act II opens promisingly with Maria’s lovely “Oh nube! che lieve per l’aria,” followed by the anxious, dark-hued Leicester-Maria scene in which, amid genuine theatrical excitement, the nobleman pleads with La Stuarda to quell her pride in order to save her head.

Musically and dramatically the opera has been primed for the crucial meeting between Elisabetta and Maria, an encounter that promises to be the central scene in this tragic tale of two ambitious queens. It is here that Donizetti lets us down: we are served a perfunctory sextet lacking striking individual characterization, some standard melodramatic conversation in music, and a gimcrack finale that, for all its shortness, ends not a moment too soon.

In the lengthy third act the drama heaves blisteringly to life. In its three scenes (outlining Elisabetta’s signing of the death warrant, Maria’s receipt of the fateful document and her passage to the block) Donizetti distills the dramatic essence of his royal protagonists’ conflict. Elisabetta, ceasing to be the wicked queen of Christmas pantomime, forces herself, in a very human manner and almost against her will, to face the hard facts of Renaissance realpolitik; while Maria, her ambitions thwarted, her pride humbled, reconciles herself to impending death. The music here reaches an intensity unapproached throughout the rest of the opera. Though experiencing a number-opera, we are no longer aware that any artificial division exists. The experience and its expression have become one.

Beverly Sills beautifully portrays Maria: her dramatic involvement is total, even in those scenes when Donizetti gives her scant support. Her phrasing is musicianly, her execution of fioriture crisp and incisive. In the third act her delicate character modulations are masterly. Eileen Farrell, in her first complete opera recording, is a less flamboyant Elizabeth than we usually encounter in theatrical enterprises. Hers is a hard-headed woman of resolve, with little time to waste on emotional tantrums, who has gained her throne at a fearful price and intends to keep it at all cost. The big voice is still rich and ringing, but in this recording it seems to possess less than its usual tonal allure.

As Leicester, Stuart Burrows shows a bright lyric tenor and a cultivated sense of the Donizetti style; sometimes he forces at the extreme top, but midrange his voice is easy and appealing. Louis Quilico brings his resonant baritone to the service of Talbo, admirably endowing this rather sketchy character with a strong dramatic profile. On the podium, Aldo Ceccato leads with spirit, at all times keeping the orchestral movement pliant. The recorded sound is generally good, though there are some obtrusive blatty brass tones.