LABELS: Warner/NVC Arts
ALBUM TITLE: Mary Stuart
WORKS: Mary Stuart
PERFORMER: Janet Baker, Rosalind Plowright, David Rendall, John Tomlinson, Alan Opie; ENO Chorus & Orchestra/Charles Mackerras; dir. John Copley (Coliseum, London)
CATALOGUE NO: 504678028-2
Janet Baker was wise to choose Mary Stuart for her farewell to the opera house in 1982, for Donizetti’s heroine exemplified her strengths as a singer and an actress. In captivity she is dignity personified; in the confrontation with her ‘bastard’ cousin, Elizabeth, morally outraged, never simply waspish; and magnanimous in defeat as her scaffold is made ready.
Throughout, the tone is golden tawny, the legato exemplary and Baker’s decoration discreetly effective. In the final scene, Mary hoping that death will put to rest the issues between herself and Elizabeth, the voice drops from a fioratura flourish at the top into the chest register and we know that the grave beckons.
Not that this English National Opera production was ever allowed to become just a star vehicle for a great singer. Above all this is an ensemble account of Donizetti’s masterpiece and what an ensemble it was at ENO then. Rosalind Plowright is on top form as Elizabeth, a younger John Tomlinson gives the one-dimensional Talbot dignity and compassion and David Rendall makes an ardent and heroic Leicester. With Charles Mackerras in the pit who could ask for anything more? Christopher Cook