This opera becomes a battle of the divas in its great second act, with Sutherland, as Mary Stuart, pitted against the jealous, paranoid, and vengeful Elizabeth I (Tourangeau). There is an intensely dramatic confrontation in which insults are violently exchanged between the powerful monarch and her imprisoned but still regal rival to the throne. Mary wins the battle of insults, but this is a dangerous victory over one who has the power of life and death. Elizabeth orders Mary's execution and Act III becomes a spectacle of pathos and horror. Sutherland's usual style is more attuned to pathos than to the swapping of insults, but she rises splendidly to the challenges of Act II and she has a splendid supporting cast. (Joe McLellan)
“Sutherland is in her element here - and what a wonderful score it is too…Horne has the odd moment of unsteadiness in the early parts of the opera, but she is impressive in the brilliant Brindisi of the last Act” (The Penguin Guide)
Belisario is, quite simply, one of Donizetti’s finest achievements. Dating from the high watermark of Donizetti’s maturity, with its premiere in 1836 (the year after the debut of Maria Stuarda in Milan and Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples), Belisario proved a triumph on stages throughout the 19th century. Yet, incredibly, it is little known today. The libretto, by Salvadore Cammarano (who collaborated with Donizetti on Lucia di Lammermoor), tells the moving and typically complicated story of the 6th century Byzantine general. Falsely accused by his wife, Antonina, of killing their son, he was blinded and exiled as his punishment. Only the recognition by his daughter, Irene, that her father’s former captive, Alamiro, was her long-lost brother restores Belisario’s reputation; tragically, too late to save his life.
How this opera grows in the affections. And how it strengthens the larger, ever-deepening appreciation not merely of Donizetti's work but of operatic conventions as such. I mean that the frequently derided forms of opera (the set pieces, aria-and-cabaletta and so forth) can increasingly be a source of pleasure and of perceived power in the writing. Here, for instance, part of the exhilaration arises out of the composer's skill in suiting the conventions to his dramatic and musical purposes. Elizabeth's first aria, meditatively hopeful yet anxious, fits the lyric-cantabile form; then the arrival of Talbot and Cecil with their opposing influences provokes the intensified turbulence of irresolution that makes dramatic sense out of the cabaletta. It is so with the duets and ensembles: they look like conventional set-pieces, but established form and specific material have been so well fitted that, with the musical inspiration working strongly (as it is here), you have opera not in its naive stage awaiting development towards freedom from form but, on the contrary, opera at the confident height of a period in its history when it was entirely true to itself.
This studio recording was made in 1989 coinciding with a memorable production from the Metropolitan Opera, later captured on DVD. It's a delightful performance, and a wonderful highlight of Pavarotti's later career. Kathleen Battle's sparkling soprano is a brilliant accompaniment to Pavarotti's still-ringing tone.
"Pavarotti's voice was still beautiful and pliable, his phrasing exquisite. And he loved the role of Nemorino and always seemed happy with both its comedy and pathos–he steals every scene he's in, and no one minds…Kathleen Battle sings Adina with perfect, pearl-like tone, absolute fluency and commitment, and a trill to die for…Enzo Dara is an ideal Dulcamara, just the right combination of huckster and sentimentalist, with ease in every register and with fast music."
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
An opera about a company who are staging an opera? Donizetti is at the height of his comic powers and provides an abrasively disenchanted take on a world he knew all too well, with it tantrum-throwing primadonnas and narcissistic tenors, its spite and envy, its mean and noble sides… a world which is still very much with us.
Dedicated by Donizetti to Rubini (the part of the protagonist was written expressly for the famous tenor), Gianni di Parigi is a delightful opera, rich in brilliant music and often very inspired, alternating pages of high virtuoso belcanto singing to others of gentler melodic effusion, already truly romantic, and reaching to the highest levels of Donizetti's comic spirit in the long articulated scene of the two buffi, justifiably the best known piece of the opera.
Glyndebourne has brought to light a long-overlooked winner in Donizetti’s Poliuto, delivering ‘a superb musical performance’ (The Telegraph) offering ‘lucent accounts of the principal roles and an incandescent London Philharmonic Orchestra, under Enrique Mazzola’ (New York Times). This first ever professional UK staging of the story of third-century Armenian martyr St Polyeuctus features a ‘trio of world-class young singers’ with Fabiano, winner of the Beverly Sills and Richard Tucker awards, displaying a ‘thrilling, vibrant tone’ in the title role, Martínez providing Paolina with ‘pinging coloratura’ and Golovatenko giving a ‘radiant-toned’ voice to Severo. (The Guardian)
The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.