Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda featured in the MetHD series in January 2013 and has now been released on DVD. My review of the cinema broadcast is here. It’s always a bit different watching the DVD rather than the cinema version but in this case I think my somewhat different reaction has a lot to do with having recently seen various versions of the other Schiller/Donizetti Tudor queen operas, especially Stephen Lawless’ Roberto Devereux at the COC.
Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is based on one short episode in the storied life of the famous female pharmacist. In it she twice poisons her son; once at the insistence of her husband, the second time by accident. The second time her son refuses the antidote preferring to die with his equally poisoned buddies but learns in his dying breath that Lucrezia is indeed his mother. It’s pretty unusual for a bel canto opera in that the leading female role (a) has agency, (b) doesn’t go mad and (c) doesn’t die.
Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003. It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once. There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos. Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production. The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly. In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun. In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site. They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective. The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.
Once in a while one comes across an opera DVD that’s so “ordinary” that it’s extremely difficult to write about it. The 2002 Cagliari recording of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is one such. Stefano Vizioli’s production is set in 1750s Rome and plays the piece about as straight as a madcap comedy can be played. The singing is rather good and, if the acting is a bit Brian Rix farce that’s hardly inappropriate. At the heart of the piece is Alessandro Corbelli who must be close to being the ideal Pasquale. He gets good support from Eva Mei as Norina and Antonino Siragusa as Ernesto. Roberto de Candia is also quite good as Malatesta but he’s not Mariusz Kwiecien. The chorus is a lot livelier than the average Italian chorus and the orchestra, from Bologna, might be a bit thin on string tone but isn’t bad at all and Gérard Korsten’s conducting is perfectly OK.
I went back for a second look at Roberto Devereux at the COC last night. My original impressions pretty much stand but this time I remembered my opera glasses and was able to focus more on some of the details of this quite intricate production. I do still struggle a bit with the music. There’s this jaunty little tune (doo de doo doo doo doo dooo) that crops up all the time and often at the least emotionally appropriate moments and there’s the interminable overture and thank goodness for Lawless’ allegorical prelude because listening to it in front of a closed curtain would have been intolerable. Still, the drama was pretty intense and Sondra Radvanovsky has, if anything, grown into the role. The last scene, portraying the dying queen’s emotional disintegration is worth the price of admission. I also got more of a sense of Russell Braun and Allyson McHardy being in role and having developed some chemistry that was a bit absent on opening night.
There are four more peerformances between now and May 21st with Giuseppe Filianoti now replacing the excellent Leonardo Capalbo in the title role.
Photo credit – Michael Cooper
Stephen Lawless’ production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s the last of the so called “Tudor Trilogy” and deals, ostensibly, with the last days of the reign of Elizabeth I. Events are loosely based on history. In this case the queen’s relationship with Robert Devereux, earl of Essex; his failure in Ireland, fall from grace, rebellion and execution for treason(1). Here the drama is turned into a simple story of royal jealousy featuring two fictional characters; The duke of Nottingham, Devereux’ bestie, and his wife Sara, confidante of the queen and in love with Devereux. It’s probably best seen as a logical continuation of the anti Tudor theme of the previous operas. There’s a bombastic, lustful monarch more concerned with his/her love life than affairs of state and there’s a scheming arch-Protestant minister responsible for the death of someone who doesn’t deserve for it for reasons of state (here the younger Cecil). The trouble here is that there is no obvious martyr. However one looks at it Devereux, brings about his own downfall.
It’s one of the nicer things about Toronto that from time to time a visiting star at the COC will agree to do a free lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Today was the turn of American coloratura Anna Christy who is currently singing the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. It was an exceptionally fun sixty minutes.
I was a little worried when she and accompanist Liz Upchurch just took their places and started. I need not have been. We got a set of three bel canto art songs that were full of virtuosity and personality. The sheer technical skill was obvious but so was the range of tone colour. Those doomandgloomists who think modern singers can’t act with the voice should listen to Ms. Christy. It’s all there. After that opening she did open up and explain the middle part of her set; pieces by Bolcom and Copland that she sees as natural successors to bel canto. Sung with exquisite attention to the texts one can see her point. She was also very funny and very human. I do like modern divas so much more than the one’s who get in a snit because the caviar isn’t the right temperature.
She finished up with arias by Rossini, Handel and Donizetti, all sung stylishly and with tasteful ornamentation. It was really classy. And to round things out her parents were there and it was her dad’s seventieth and there are no prizes for guessing how things finished up.