WORKS: Mary Stuart
PERFORMER: Janet Baker, Rosalind Plowright, David Rendall, John Tomlinson, Alan Opie; English National Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3017(2)
It was as Donizetti’s Mary Stuart that Dame Janet Baker made her last London appearances in opera in 1982. This was a role which suited her vocal timbre and personality admirably, and that warm, unique voice was in superb condition. How fortunate we are to have this live recording made at one of those performances. Dame Janet brings a firm legato line to the bel canto arias and an almost Callas-like dramatic involvement to the recitative. Rosalind Plowright is first-rate as Mary’s formidable adversary, Queen Elizabeth, and the great confrontation scene in Act II when Mary, Queen of Scots, seals her own fate by calling the English Queen a bastard, comes thrillingly to life. Dame Janet is extremely moving in her final aria as Mary goes to her execution.
Alan Opie is an admirable Cecil, David Rendall an acceptable Leicester, and John Tomlinson’s Talbot is so well sung that one can forgive a few uncertainties of pitch. Fortunately, the diction of most of the cast is clear enough to enable one to appreciate Tom Hammond’s fine Engligh translation. That the performance is so satisfying is due in large part to the way Sir Charles Mackerras conducts Donizetti’s score, pacing the dramatic action nicely, and handling the large choruses with authority. ENO’s chorus and orchestra are in top form. This is a highly acceptable English-language performance, but the benchmark recording has to be the Italian Maria Stuarda, with Joan Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau and Luciano Pavarotti. Charles Osborne