ALBUM TITLE: Donizetti
WORKS: Maria Stuarda
PERFORMER: Carmela Remigio, Sonia Ganassi, Joseph Calleja; Lombardy Regional Chorus, Bergamo Gaetano Donizetti Orchestra/Fabrizio Maria Carminati; dir. Francesco Esposito (Bergamo, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: 33407 P
It’s an odd production of Maria Stuarda in which Elizabeth, not Mary, steals the audience’s heart. But then Sonia Ganassi’s characterisation of Elizabeth is wonderfully rounded, every inch a woman trapped in a woman’s body in a man’s world in the opening scene at court. In their mighty Act II confrontation, Carmela Remigio’s Mary confuses affronted dignity with downright bad manners, so when Elizabeth taunts her rival with her hunting whip it’s difficult not to feel that Mary Stuart is getting her just desserts.
Mary’s case isn’t helped by Remigio’s underpowered voice: anything above mezzoforte produces a nasty attack of vibrato, and her tone is clouded when it should be clear. In fact, top vocal honours belong to the tenor Joseph Calleja as Leicester, who’s not simply the usual plot device, but a handsome hero who really has got under the skins, if not the skirts, of the rival queens.
For the most part the cameras respect Francesco Esposito’s production as a theatrical experience; a handsome and thoughtful experience, too, with the chorus ranged behind a huge metal grille to one side of the stage. Are they prisoners behind bars or watching a pair of caged heroines from the outside? A stimulating ambiguity. It’s Tudorbethan costumes in black and white for the courtiers, with only Elizabeth and Mary allowed their splash of colour, used most skilfully in the final act to suggest that Donizetti’s heroines are perhaps the mirror image of each other. So if Mary Stuart goes to the scaffold in traditional scarlet, Elizabeth has signed the death warrant in the preceding scene while reclining on a mountain of red silk cushions. If only Fabrizio Maria Carminati had brought such attention to detail to Donizetti’s score. Faithful to a fault, this most theatrical of operas smoulders musically when it ought to blaze. Christopher Cook