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Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda
25 May 2006

DONIZETTI: Maria Stuarda

By sheer coincidence I attended a concert performance of this opera at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp at the same moment I received these CD’s.

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda

Carmela Remigio (Maria Stuarda), Sonia Ganassi (Elisabetta), Joseph Calleja (Leicester), Riccardo Zanellato (Talbot), Marzio Giossi (Lord Cecil), Cinzia Rizzone (Anna Kennedy). Orchestra Stabile di Bergamo “G. Donizetti”, Fabrizio Maria Carminati (cond.).

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The performance finally succeeded in convincing me the opera has its moments. I yield to no one in my admiration for the master of Bergamo (one of the most beautiful cities of Italy) but I had difficulty in “getting” it. The melodic inspiration seemed somewhat thin to me and it didn’t come as a surprise that the opera was not very successful at its birth. Yes, the Neapolitan and later Milan censure made some drastic changes necessary as they refused to have a queen ordering the beheading of another queen; but this cannot be the main reason for the failure. After all, king François I had to become the Duke of Mantova and King Gustavus to become Governor Riccardo; and this didn’t prevent Rigoletto or Ballo each to become a staple of the repertory.

Luckily the Donizetti Renaissance and the advent of Gencer, Sutherland, Caballé and Sills made us aware of many a beauty in the Donizetti canon. In Antwerp, Maria Stuarda was sung by the Bulgarian soprano Darina Takova. She had been ill for some days, was replaced by Majella Cullagh (of Opera Rara fame as every true Donizettian knows) but was fully in command of her voice on the night I attended. Takova has a dark, creamy voice with a good strong top she was not shy to show off as if to prove to the audience she had really been ill and now was once more the moment to prove her worth. And, I admit she somewhat spoiled this set for me. Stuarda is a sombre drama of state and love and without the usual party music that lightens up the stage for a few moments. And I fear soprano Carmela Remigio is not in the same class as Takova or Sutherland or Caballé—ladies who were mistresses of some Wagner or Strauss at almost the same time they sang Donizetti. The voice of Remigio is clear and pure but too light for the role (which is a long and heavy one). There is little colour in the voice and she cannot dominate as she ought to. In the one scene where Donizetti’s melodic genius shines, the fine concertato with chorus in the third act, she has not the vocal strength to ride over all and everything. Worse, in the heart of the opera where the two rivals meet, Remigio is just bland at the denunciation of Elisabeth. Remigio is a more a lyric than a coloratura and she treads very carefully in an opera that needs to have all reins loosened. Only once does she take the higher option in an opera that cries for a few long held high C’s at the end of a cabaletta or ensemble.

Mezzo Sonia Ganassi’s sound belongs to the lighter variety, too, but has a bit more colour in it. Still, I cannot say I am really convinced by her interpretation. Here as well there is not much drama in the voice. Of course this CD is the sound track of a DVD which I have not seen. Some photographs in the set prove that both ladies (especially Ganassi) have the right look and thus could make an extra-musical impression on the audience.

Vocally there is but one real star in the set and that’s Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. He has all the required goods—an exciting and very sweet timbre, a good top (though he too avoids too strenuous a top note) and some fine diminuendi. The voice sounds maybe a little bit too slender. But the recording was made in 2001; and since that time, I have personally witnessed the volume of the voice grow ( so has the body of the singer) without impairing the fine timbre.

Riccardo Zanellato and Marmzio Giossi are just right though not too exciting in their smaller roles.

Chorus and orchestra are ably conducted by Fabrizio Maria Carminati who succeeds well in keeping the forces together during the many ensembles but one has to admit that he has not the best of orchestras at his disposal and the chorus sounds somewhat thin.

Jan Neckers

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