The Three Queens: excerpts from Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux
Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano); with Kathleen Felty (mezzo-soprano), Lauren Decker (contralto), Eric Ferring, Mario Rojas (tenor), Christopher Kenney (baritone), David Weigel (bass-baritone), Anthony Reed (bass); Lyric Opera of Chicago/Riccardo Frizza
Pentatone PTC 5186 970 99:36 mins (2 discs)
Six years ago at the Met, Sondra Radvanovsky joined that select group of sopranos who have sung all three of Donizetti’s 16th-century queens. Now she has taken the closing scenes of Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux for a live performance in her native city of Chicago
You need stamina, technique and vocal nerves of steel to rise to the challenge of ‘creating’ these three very different women, and an understanding that each work belongs to its own period in the composer’s career as he bends the opera forms that he had inherited. The cabaletta, ‘Coppia iniqua’, in which Bolena curses Henry VIII and his new bride, is recognisably part of an inherited operatic tradition, while the two linked arias that end Roberto Devereux are a new departure both in form and psychology. Radvanovsky does not always manage to characterise the different women in these scenes. The singing is accurate, the decoration restrained, but they sound the same woman. She is at her best as Maria Stuarda with a fine version of Mary’s prayer soaring over the chorus. Elsewhere her diction is sometimes clotted and her final top notes often abbreviated.
Her supporting artists, young singers from the Lyric Opera’s development programme, are a mixed feast. Mario Rojas shows himself a useful bel canto tenor as Leicester in Maria Stuarda and Kathleen Felty is a deliciously fruity Sara, Duchess of Nottingham in Roberto Devereux. But it’s the Queen the audience have come to hear and at the end Chicago salutes its own.