The case for the defence...,
This review is from: Donizetti: Maria Stuarda (in English) (Audio CD)
Many will by-pass this because they are wary of translated opera performances. And indeed some do work better than others. But what a treat they will miss... for here we have a most convincing case for the defence, an Italian opera about (fabricated) English/Scottish history, sung in English.
Under the baton of Mackerras, the opera sweeps the listener along to the tragic finale with impressive strength and drama. The live recording is a little hollow, but vivid enough, and the cast are fully engaged as only native speakers can be.
David Rendell's flickering tenor makes a properly impassioned Robert Leicester. Rosalind Plowright's volcanic soprano sometimes explodes a little too much as Elizabeth I, losing focus, tone and pitch on the hightest notes, but within the framework of a dramatic personage, it works.
BUT the towering performance, of course, is Dame Janet Baker, whose mezzo-soprano Mary has simply never been surpassed in any language, edition or transcription. The vocal line has been slightly adjusted to accomodate her voice (as was common even in Donizetti's day), while her impassioned, scorching singing, ravishingly beautiful and tender where required (and with superb control), and vividly blazing in the finale, carries all along with it. In this single recording, Baker does as much as Callas ever did to reveal Donzetti as a truly dramatic composer. This is true bel canto singing and the final scene is deeply moving.
The story, of a fictional meeting between the two queens, culminates in Mary's furious outburst in the act one finale. Here, Baker hurls her abuse at Elizabeth with all the skills of a great singing actress, as she declares the English Queen a "Royal Bastard!". But in a performance of great consistancy and beauty, it is often the reflective moments - of which there are many - that haunt the listener.
No other performance on disc or on film has brought the character of Mary to such astonishing and thrilling life. A real jewel in the crown of Baker's career and Chandos' Opera in English series.