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Mike Ashman
Gramophone, May 2011

A modern production for Donizetti’s Tudor drama

Probing modern productions of bel canto operas are not yet common on DVD. Like the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Tunisian-born director Denis Krief is also his own set, costume and lighting designer. His stripped-down focus on Donizetti’s Schiller-based Tudor tragedy makes it something of a tale of Tristan and two Isoldes. Sonia Ganassi’s Elisabetta can hardly keep her hands off José Bros’s Roberto (Leicester) even when she’s cruelly consigning him to witness the execution of Fiorenza Cedolins’s Maria—whom she believes, probably rightly, he loves (or lusts after) more than her. Leicester secures the fabled (and fictional) meeting between the queens by seducing Elisabetta in mid-court and is no less physical with Maria when persuading her to talk to her rival. The whole is set by Krief in a knot garden maze of metallic walls, raised for Elizabeth’s court, dropped low for Maria’s Fotheringay. For the final scene approaching Maria’s execution the walls open slightly to reveal a dais-cum-scaffold area (an implication that Maria’s fate was inevitable). This beneficial influence of both Wieland Wagner and Robert Wilson extends to the costumes, which might be called modernised versions of 19th-century Elizabethan, with soldiers in simple black leather and metal pole spears. The Queens are colour-coded—Elisabetta in “jealous” orange; Maria in red, then Schiller’s prescribed white for her execution.

Maestro Carminati looks an amiable, gentle soul as he enters the pit but he unleashes a firestorm of tension and passion in the big duets and his judicious tempi bind Donizetti’s not-so-easy recitatives into flowing music-drama. Ganassi is in superb fettle throughout, encompassing both power and agility. Cedolins takes a little longer to be at full stretch but the scene with Leicester, the “absolution” from Talbot and the Requiem-like finale are movingly turned. Bros makes a real character of Leicester’s obsessions, problems and weaknesses, and is in fine voice for a repertoire that suits his size of voice well. Video director Mancini has decided to let us watch a majority of the production from upstairs, which neatly emphasises the maze prison aspects of the set; Krief’s subtle colours read precisely on Blu-ray. Sound and balance seem true and natural. An outstanding release, and a great relief to be removed from the static period costume displays normally inflicted on this drama.




Mike Ashman
Gramophone, May 2011

A modern production for Donizetti’s Tudor drama

Probing modern productions of bel canto operas are not yet common on DVD. Like the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Tunisian-born director Denis Krief is also his own set, costume and lighting designer. His stripped-down focus on Donizetti’s Schiller-based Tudor tragedy makes it something of a tale of Tristan and two Isoldes. Sonia Ganassi’s Elisabetta can hardly keep her hands off José Bros’s Roberto (Leicester) even when she’s cruelly consigning him to witness the execution of Fiorenza Cedolins’s Maria—whom she believes, probably rightly, he loves (or lusts after) more than her. Leicester secures the fabled (and fictional) meeting between the queens by seducing Elisabetta in mid-court and is no less physical with Maria when persuading her to talk to her rival. The whole is set by Krief in a knot garden maze of metallic walls, raised for Elizabeth’s court, dropped low for Maria’s Fotheringay. For the final scene approaching Maria’s execution the walls open slightly to reveal a dais-cum-scaffold area (an implication that Maria’s fate was inevitable). This beneficial influence of both Wieland Wagner and Robert Wilson extends to the costumes, which might be called modernised versions of 19th-century Elizabethan, with soldiers in simple black leather and metal pole spears. The Queens are colour-coded—Elisabetta in “jealous” orange; Maria in red, then Schiller’s prescribed white for her execution.

Maestro Carminati looks an amiable, gentle soul as he enters the pit but he unleashes a firestorm of tension and passion in the big duets and his judicious tempi bind Donizetti’s not-so-easy recitatives into flowing music-drama. Ganassi is in superb fettle throughout, encompassing both power and agility. Cedolins takes a little longer to be at full stretch but the scene with Leicester, the “absolution” from Talbot and the Requiem-like finale are movingly turned. Bros makes a real character of Leicester’s obsessions, problems and weaknesses, and is in fine voice for a repertoire that suits his size of voice well. Video director Mancini has decided to let us watch a majority of the production from upstairs, which neatly emphasises the maze prison aspects of the set; Krief’s subtle colours read precisely on Blu-ray. Sound and balance seem true and natural. An outstanding release, and a great relief to be removed from the static period costume displays normally inflicted on this drama.



Robert McKechnie
MusicWeb International, April 2011

The one-set-fits-all scenes is a stage-filling labyrinth as shown on the DVD cover above. It is not a maze: the characters are not in a puzzle but in roles where their actions are circumscribed by their offices of state. Although the opera’s events are from 1587, this production is timeless in set and costumes. Together with direction and lighting, all by Denis Krief, they provide complementary forces that leave the audience free to concentrate on voices and plot.

The performance by Ganassi is a tour de force. She manifests remarkable vocal strength throughout her vocal range. She misses not a word, with diction, dynamics and colouring second to none. It seems invidious to select any specific aria but Quella vita a me funesta (tr. 22), when about to sign the death warrant, exhibits all that is glorious about her vocal and acting strengths. From her entrance aria, with middle-note-hitting, leaps and vocal contrasts to her dismissal of her rival queen, she exhibits her consummate stage presence.

No less forceful is Cedolins as Maria Stuarda. A natural spitfire who can leap around her upper tessitura with agility at forte but who can rein back to piano to send a melting note across stage, pit and auditorium. Although not as strong in her chest voice, she remains totally note and line focused. Her runs and trills are an aural joy. From her wistful O nube! (tr. 12) through vocal fireworks of vitriol to her moving acceptance of fate in Quando di luce rosea (tr. 27), Cedolins displays strong colouring and dynamics.

José Bros (Leicester) brings to the role his distinctive timbre with smouldering passion and dramatic intensity. His diction many would do well to emulate—no need on this DVD though—as well as his strongly coloured and stage encompassing sound. He is the master of the smooth legato. This is a mature Leicester, not dashing around the stage, but relying on vocal gravitas to project his character.

Together Ganassi and Bros have the power, tone, dynamic variation and breath control to complement each other. She leads and her courtier follows. Now she deludes herself in imagining his love for her but is then persuaded to meet her rival from Scotland.

Thus it is also with the Maria Stuarda of Cedolins. Bros is the mature courtier/lover endeavouring to keep her alive by persuading her to throw herself on English regal mercy: a serious error of judgement over-looking that royal all-consuming hatred of her rival from Scotland. The Bros/Cedolins duet Da tutti abbandonata (tr. 15) has everything: dynamics in spades, each soaring above the other in turn, vocal colouring and, as expected facial acting by Cedolins shown well in camera close-ups.

Mirco Palazzi is a quite excellent Talbot—not revealing himself late as a priest in this production, but a priest from the start. His superb bass-deep colouring and ringing tone brings this role much more to the fore. He is the perfect foil for the tenor of Bros and the soprano of Cedolins. This is a convincing priest and confidant.

Marco Caria is the unenviable and possibly unloved Cecil, persuading one queen to execute another. A hint of strain at forte, nevertheless very persuasive and acting well with Ganassi in that restless death warrant signature scene. As the conveyor of the warrant he relaxes into the hypocrisy of sadness that Caria carries well with evenness of tone and perfect diction.

Pervin Chakar sings the small but important role of Anna. Small, with little opportunity to shine solo, but important, in her contribution to the ensembles. Chakar has a ringing soprano that can be heard clearly in the excellently delivered and balanced ensembles.

Maestro Carminati has other productions of this opera to his credit. Here there is a sporadic lack of co-ordination of his forces: occasionally with timing but more frequently allowing the orchestra to equal and not complement the events on stage. The chorus were not on their best form: no perception of involvement in the unfolding plot and, without the subtitles, difficult to follow.

The camera-work is unhurried, from full stage to close-up. Plenty of time to appreciate Krief’s use of colours, from Ganassi’s yellow costume of jealousy to Cedolins bold red jacket and skirt—the scarlet woman or perhaps foretelling her bloody end. In this production, she meets her end in a white strapless evening dress and drape: virgin innocence possibly, but the opposite of the original stage direction for black.

The lighting, with some equally effective colours, makes a significant but welcome contribution. The labyrinth uprights and/or tops are suffused with dramatic varying colours, matching scene and mood. This set, with its straight lines, provides the perfect tool for shot amalgamation showing figures in close proximity on screen when in reality they are apart on the stage. And the superimposing of the head and shoulders of Cedolins on a shot of the whole stage in the final scene is a striking reminder of her overarching presence. Such camera-work is the more effective for its sparing use.

Taken overall this is an excellent DVD…thought-provoking aspects, overall vocal balances and because the production is so different, not detracting from, but complementing, plot and sound.






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4:19:54 PM, 10 July 2014
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