Classics Today Magazine, October 1974 by Robert Levine
|aria Stuarda is one third of the so-called “three queen” trilogy that defined much of
the career of Beverly Sills (along with Lucia, the three Hoffmann heroines,
in the early 1970s. It was quite an undertaking, and each–Stuarda,
and Roberto Devereux–was recorded by the since-disapppeared ABC
Series. For reasons opera lovers have been wondering about for
years, the recordings
went out of print pretty quickly; but now, handsomely
remastered, they are making
their first appearance on CD, both individually and
as a three-opera set. Stuarda also
has been recorded by Joan Sutherland and
Janet Baker (in a version Donizetti
prepared for the lower-voiced Maria Malibran),
and there are at least three “private” sets I know of with Montserrat Caballé in
the title role….
Stuarda may just be the weakest of the three operas; only Mary and Elizabeth’s
music is of any consequence. The men tend to be ciphers, with Leicester’s
peacemaking role containing some pretty tenorizing in duets and ensembles, and
Talbot, the baritone, turning out to be a pretty tedious Catholic priest ready to
console Mary before her death. The opera’s centerpiece, however, is a pip: The two
regal babes bump into
each other in Fotheringay Park and the confrontaion that
ensues (and ends Act 2) is the
stuff of high melodrama (or camp). It is, by the way,
an entirely invented occurence: the two queens never met. Elizabeth is
condescending, Mary is proud; Elizabeth infers that Mary is a slut and Mary volleys
by calling Elizabeth a “vile bastard” and thereby signs her own death warrant.
Mary’s death scene is ravishing as well; as good as anything Donizetti wrote
But don’t get me wrong–it’s a laugh a minute. And this performance is terrific.
the return to the recording studio after many, many years by dramatic soprano
Eileen Farrell as Queen Elizabeth, a role that lies in the high-mezzo range, has
of coloratura, and needs to be exclaimed as much as sung, since she’s always
some sort of cranky mood. And Farrell is dynamite, hurling her huge voice
like a spear and, though lumbering a bit through the fiorature, is wildly
And Sills is at her purest (well, except when she loses it and
the “vil bastarda!” thing gets yelled), loveliest, most refined, dignified, and sad,
and the voice is in glorious shape.
Given the role’s limitations, Stuart Burrows is very good as Leicester, singing
caressingly when needed and showing some mettle every so often. Louis Quilico’s
Talbot is elegantly done. Aldo Ceccato is a fine singers’ conductor–he gives plenty
of leeway but doesn’t overindulge, even in an opera like this, which invites
overindulgence. The Sutherland/Tourangeau/Pavarotti recording is good, but
Sutherland is droopier than needed and Tourangeau is a taste most people never
acquire. There’s a fiery Caballé/Verrett pairing but the sound is awful.
Why look any further? For Sills, Farrell, and the drama alone, this one is magnificent.