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Donizetti: Maria Stuarda (in English) Double CD

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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  • Performer: Dame Janet Baker, Rosalind Plowright, David Rendall, John Tomlinson
  • Orchestra: English National Opera Chorus, English National Opera Orchestra
  • Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras
  • Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
  • Audio CD (1 Oct. 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Double CD
  • Label: Opera in English Series
  • ASIN: B00000IYMM
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,644 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Format: 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!".
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Baker is really at her best here - a beautiful performance (live). The whole cast sing extremely well and the sound is marvellous.
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This is an enjoyable and beautiful rendering of the oper with the main part sung by the wonderful Janet Baker
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x91c67f54) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92dd3cf0) out of 5 stars Nothing like this Dame 19 Aug. 2005
By essmac - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I must come to the defense of my gal Janet, and take issue with the negative review below. No, I don't like Opera in English either, because what language doesn't sing better than English, and like the guy says, it highlights the unnatural speech. But don't take that out on Dame Janet- she's magnificent here.

Her portrayal is different from the other wonderful ones out there (Sills, Gencer, even Caballe have knocked this role out of the park)- more 'English" if you will forgive the use of nationalistic stereotypes. More subtle, more dignified and proper- even though the 'royal b@st@rd' curse is extremely dramatic, Dame Janet doesn't screech it like a sgualdrina on the streetcorner. She sounds like a noble lady who is scandalized that she herself is driven to utter such a word, even to her hated rival.

Not that I don't love the more traditionally Italiante performances, but they sometimes sound like imperious oepra divas, not so much British queens. Not that either is better.

While Dame Janet obviously doesn't sing the high notes that Sills and Sutherland do, she nails the high As and Gs. Big, solid, steady and beautifully formed-- and remember this is live. Again in the curse- "You have dishonored/The throne of England"-- the high note she hits for 'throne' would be the envy of most sopranos and would send most Elizabeths flying right over the battlements.

And as you can imagine, she makes that incredible last act into something really special (singing with no transposition I believe). No camp here: just full-on tragedy. THe prayer is moving, and the last stretta is agony. Love her!

Add to that Dame Janet's beautiful high pianissimi, her unimpeachable technique, always sensitive phrasing, and her highly intelligent attention to the text, and suddenly, the whole affair seems more like a Shakespearean history play (what with the English, and all the asides). The perfect combination of class and drama.

Plowright is also something-- her loudest notes often overwhelming the recording equipment. Her voice seems enormous, and the wheels sometimes leave the road just enough to make things exciting. Let's hear it for the gals who let (if not all, then at least some of) it hang out in an opera. Plowright sings her knickers off- sometimes she even sounds like Jessye Norman, (and I'm thinking, did she ever do Senta?) and while Eileen Farrell (on the Sills) will always by first in my heart, Plowright does a fine job.

This set is absolutely one to treasure, even if (perhaps especially if) you already own the Sutherland or Sills. Think of it as a fine compliment to those recordings.

In any event, I've had this recording for years, and I still get it out to listen to often. How many recordings can you say that about?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9388bf9c) out of 5 stars A true Dame's departure 29 May 2007
By Nicholas Freidin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Some may be offended by the whole concept of Italian opera 'in English'. But put Dame Janet Baker and Rosalind Plowright into the mix - with Sir Charles Mackerras at the helm - and you have pure magic. Never mind the oddities: the historical inaccuracy of Queen Elizabeth's meeting with Mary Stuart (but it makes for good drama); a mezzo singing a soprano role (not for the first time); the English libretto (beats Italian in HM court !); etc.... What we have is a gripping 2 hours and 25 minutes of live theatre, in brilliant sound, with Baker (Mary) in her last recorded live performance, demonstrating why she is one of the greatest singers/interpreters in living memory. She is supported by some of the best British singers of the day, including the sadly under-recorded Plowright (Elizabeth), and also the better-recorded Alan Opie (Cecil) and John Tomlinson (Talbot). David Rendall (Leicester) is equally commendable. Sutherland and Sills have also recorded Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, both in the studio, but neither can compare with the dramatic intensity which Baker brings to the role, especially in the final scenes (Act III, Scenes 2 and 3). The ENO orchestra and chorus play superbly under Mackerras' baton.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92370dc8) out of 5 stars Dame Janet in excelsis 3 Feb. 2016
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
While I have no great attachment to opera in English, especially since the advent of surtitles coupled with the recognition that composers had the rhythms and stresses of the original in mind when they set it to music, I make honourable exceptions for especially distinguished performances from the 70's and 80's featuring Janet Baker, whose voice appears ever more resplendent from the perspective of the time elapsed since her retirement.

Dame Janet was in her late forties when she sang the series of performances from which this recording has been assembled, and obviously still in her vocal prime, even though shortly after she chose to quit the stage. She gives a really touching and dignified performance. Her coloratura is liquid, her top A's brilliant and secure, her high pianissimo notes exquisitely floated - including an F sharp in her Act III aria, "O deign to hear to hear my prayer", sustained for 16 seconds, rising to a top A - and her diction, despite some absurd assertions in previous reviews, pellucid. She enjoys first-rate support from her co-singers: bright and virile-voiced tenor David Rendall before his vibrato became intrusive, John Tomlinson before his bass became coarse and rocky, neat baritone Alan Opie and a huge-voiced Rosalind Plowright, still in her soprano phase, her voice no more wild and intense than her character and music demand.

The digital sound is really very good for a live recording and there is no more coughing than is normal at the ENO, which usually caters for refugees from TB wards but is not so badly afflicted here. A full libretto is supplied but the English is so clear it is hardly required.

You have a choice if you want to hear Dame Janet in one of her best roles: either the full, 2 CD issue or the 77 minute highlights disc, which rightly concentrates on the succession of Mary's wonderful arias; the latter excludes Act 1 and the first scene of Act III, giving Act III complete.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x921f24bc) out of 5 stars Stunning! Also, get the video!!! 2 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
THis performance is absolutely beautiful and exciting. The great Dame is a fascinating Mary and Plowright excells as Elizabeth. Better than Sills&Sutherland combined!!
2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Paul A. Dunphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Opera in English has become somewhat of a dinosaur in this era of subtitles, supertitles etc. and yet it can be a great help in introducing people to the art form.
That said, this recording of Donizetti's rather uneven opera is something of a wasted effort. The English version only serves to point out the weakness of the libretto. Janet Baker, always a totally dedicated artist, copes well with the soprano role of Mary - a role better recorded by Sills, Sutherland and company. Rosalind Plowright sounds consistently hysterical as Queen Elizabeth and her diction is totally unintelligible. David Rendall fares little better and the only person who comes through is John Tomlinson as Talbot. The sound is very good.
Question: when is ENO, or anyone for that matter, going to record "The Magic Flute" in English - now that would be worth it!!
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