Monday 14 March 2022

Guilty pleasures: Sondra Radvanovsky in the closing scenes of Donizetti's three major Tudor operas

Three Queens, closing scenes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux; Sondra Radvanovsky, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Riccardo Frizza; Pentatone

The Three Queens
, closing scenes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux; Sondra Radvanovsky, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Riccardo Frizza; Pentatone

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 March 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Pentatone's discs records a stupendous live event, Sondra Radvanovsky captured in terrific form in three major Donizetti roles

This set preserves a particular occasion, and allows one of the great voices of modern bel canto singing to shine. Recorded live at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and issued on Pentatone, under the title of Three Queensthe disc features the final scenes of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux sung by Sondra Radvanovsky, conducted by Riccardo Frizza with Lauren Decker, Kathleen Felty, Eric Ferring, Christopher Kenney, Anthony Reed, Ricardo Jose Rivera, Mario Rojas, David Weigel.

Now it has to be said that Three Queens is a misnomer as there are four Queens in the operas, though we only hear three of them (Elisabetta is absent from Maria Stuarda), also Donizetti did not write the three operas as a trilogy, they come at various different times in his career. Anna Bolena was his first major hit (though it came well into his career) whilst Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux are from his great period during the late 1830s. And there is a fourth Tudor opera, Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, though rarely encountered on stage and I don't think anyone has essayed a Tudor quartet!

Radvanovsky sang Donizetti's three Tudor operas in one season at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2015/16 season, a significant achievement in itself. For this disc she returned to Chicago Lyric Opera, where she has sung since 2002 (when she made her debut there in the title role of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah). In fact, Radvanovsky is Chicago born and raised, so this represents something of a homecoming. 

All three operas play fast and loose with history, and all three heroines are remarkably different, but what the three have in common is a sense of being traduced in their love life. Donizetti, particularly in the 1830s, seemed to have a particularly fascination with women who were pure but who were accused of wrong doing, and often went mad as a consequence. The three heroines here extend that trope somewhat, which means that whilst Radvanovsky is presented with a technical challenge, she has three contrasting characters to present. 

Beyond, the delight of hearing Radvanovsky in the 'juicy bits' of these operas and a chance to hear two discs of excerpts of major Donizetti, I am not sure whether the conflation of these scenes makes complete dramatic sense. But what the hell, we sit back and enjoy. 

The three operas are presented in date order, Anna Bolena (1830), Maria Stuarda (1835), Roberto Devereux (1837) which lucky for us is historical order too and makes some sort of dramatic sense. The smaller roles are played by a roster of young singers, many from Chicago Lyric Opera's artist development programme. In terms of running time there is a smidgeon over a single disc (100 minutes bar a whisker). Each opera is presented with its overture or sinfonia, which serves to give us a bit of scene setting, though I still find the overture to Roberto Devereux (written for Paris in 1841) rather bizarre with its anachronistic quotation of God Save the Queen.

As a singer, Radvanovsky reminds me most of Beverly Sills, she has that same touching quality and ability to bring out the fragility of her characters, and all three Anna, Maria and Elisabetta are fragile despite some firework cabalettas along the way. Radvanovsky has always rather struck me as a lyric soprano who happens to have a fine facility for the more complex passage-work. But her approach is not one of vibrant, rattle-gun accuracy, instead she spins lines, sometimes plain, sometimes busy, but always a line. 

This is not to say that we don't get the strong and vibrant, Anna's final 'Coppia iniqua' in Anna Bolena begins with admirable strength of line, and throughout Radvanovksy brings a sense of elegant bravura, but she still spins moments elegant passagework, this is not in your face fireworks. The approach is perfect for Maria Stuarda where Maria finishes with a prayer, and Radvanovsky is definitely on form here. The plangency of her tone counts for a lot, along with her ability to spin a line and frankly to sing quietly. These virtues are apparent in Elisabetta's final scene two, where the end comes with powerful expressive power.

Around her, the other singers contribute strongly. Mario Rojas is the robust Leicester in Maria Stuarda, whilst most of the other singers pop up on more than one role. No-one has a lot to do, but each contributes their moments.

Radvanovsky is well supported by chorus and orchestra. Riccardo Frizza takes quite a traditional, perhaps old-fashioned, view of the music. You should not look for historically informed, or small scale, this is grand opera.

The recording quality has that vivid element that comes from being live, and we can really appreciate the way Radvanovsky's heroines live in the moment. The drawback however is a bit of stage noise, and a couple of rather clunky edits between scenes. But, applause at the end of scenes apart, the audience is admirably absent.

We don't hear enough of Radvanovsky in the UK, and this set is a way to catch up and to take in some Donizetti highlights. There is something of the guilty pleasure about it, with three juicy concluding scenes without some of the rum-ti-tum bits which proceed them.   

The Three Queens
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) - final scenes of Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux
Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano)
Kathleen Felty (mezzo-soprano)
Lauren Decker (contralto)
Eric Ferring (tenor)
Mario Rojas (tenor)
Christopher Kenny (baritone)
Ricardo Jose Rivera (baritone)
David Weigel (bass-baritone)
Anthony Reed (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of Lyric Opera of Chicago
Riccardo Frizza (conductor)
PENTATONE PTC 5186 970 2CDs [37.21, 62.15]

Available from Amazon.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Having recently recorded Lasse Thoresen's virtuosic cello concerto, I chat to Norwegian cellist Amalie Stalheim about new music, and the continuing importance of the Romantic repertoire - interview
  • A room of mirrors: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Zachary Wilder and Ensemble I Gemelli - record review
  • Bleckell Murry NeetTraditional tunes from Cumbria in engaging modern versions for guitar and harp - record review
  • Black Renaissance Woman: Samantha Ege and John Paul Ekins explore music by six remarkable women from the Chicago Renaissance - record review
  • Fun, seduction & politics: Rimsky Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel from English Touring Opera - opera review
  • A new opera, an unperformed 19th century opera, plus Weber & Bellini: I chat to Richard Tegid Jones of Rugby-based Random Opera Company - interview
  • A joyful celebration of playing together: MiSST's 9th Annual Concert - article
  • Urban dystopia: Guildhall School's double bill of Judith Weir's Miss Fortune and Menotti's The Telephone - opera review
  • Elan and style: Grands Motets by Michel-Richard De Lalande from Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances - record review
  • Iceland: The Eternal Music - Graham Ross and the choir of Clare College explore the contemporary music of Iceland - record review
  • A superbly engrossing performance: James Newby and Simon Lepper in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • English Touring Opera's revival of Puccini's La Boheme proves finely satisfying - opera review
  • Home


No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month