JANET BAKER SINGS OPERA
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 04/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Janet Baker was a wonderful artist and will be remembered very fondly as a supreme interpreter of so-called "Art-Songs" and Oratorios. However, she was also a wonderful opera singer always selecting carefully her roles and performing them exquisitely with great artistry (examples are Handle's "Julius Caesar", Gluck's "Alceste", Massenet's "Werther" (Charlotte) and, of course Donizetti's "Mary Stuart"). (I owned an audio recording of this performance many years ago and loved it sharing it with other opera fanatics that I was friends with in order to prove to them that there was more to Janet Baker than her just being a singer of Oratorios which some of them erroneously believed!) I'm thrilled with this DVD because it gives me the opportunity to view Janet Baker in action on an operatic stage in one of her greatest roles; she was a wonderful actress as well as a fantastic singer. Thus, making her a superb singing actress-in the very best sense of the phrase! In fact, all of the singers, in this production, are really into their roles with Janet Baker being truly amazing! The opera is performed in an English translation which is something I usually avoid; however, it is a really good translation with the singers enunciating very well. The translator of the libretto must have had operatic vocal training because he/she was very cognoscente of what it takes to sing opera--the English translation "fits" each singer's voice very well (it also fits the music wonderfully!).
Janet Baker was at the very height of her powers in this performance giving a truly mesmerizing account of Donizetti's Mary Stuart. She is able to meet every vocal challenge Donizetti throws at her. From full throttled high notes as well as low ones to unearthly pianissimos and everything in-between. Her floritura and embellishments are great; she uses them wonderfully to express the character's emotions, feelings, thoughts and memories. The fictional confrontation scene with Plowright is thrilling! Those girls really have a go (vocally) at each other. (I know that there are "purist" that object to this scene because it lacks historical accuracy. It does NOT bother me a bit! I feel that this IS opera NOT a history lesson making for some very exciting "melt the stage-lights" singing between the two female leads-ain't that what opera is all about?? To me it is! Plus not too many operas are known for their historical accuracy.) Rosalind is stupendous as ElizabethI displaying why she was (at that time) to go on to greater things becoming one of the leading sopranos of her day.
The secondary roles are all handled very well. However, as in so many of Donizetti's operas the ladies are the real show with Janet and Rosalind putting on a jolly good one!
The DVD picture and sound qualities are marvelous capturing a beautiful production wonderfully!
Excellence at work
Robert Baksa | new york state | 05/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am not a great fan of Donizetti so this opera is only of minimal interest to me. What makes this DVD so valuable is the performance. How wonderful to have a document of Baker's artistry. She is totally immersed in the drama as a start and the voice never less than secure technically and unfailingly beautiful. I'm a jaw watcher when it comes to opera. A poor technique usually shows up in a wobble in the jaw which means a wobble in the voice. Baker's whole performance is an object lesson in the highest possible standard of performance. The rest of the cast, peopled with stalwarts of English Operatic life, in generally very strong. Plowright, much too beautiful to portray Elisabeth I, is fine dramatically. But she is clearly uncomfortable with the tessitura of her role. She eventually switched to mezzo roles. Would that she could have seen the wisdom of this move at an earlier date than this performance.
The English translation serves its purpose well and lets us see the involvement of all the principles in the drama. Above all, recommnded for Dame Janet."
Yes, Friends, There Really was a Janet Baker...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 11/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"... and she was the best of her era, bar none. This performance as Mary Stuart was her own choice for her "farewell" to the London operatic stage in 1982, though she continued to sing in recitals and concert performances of the Mahler Lieder. Her Mahler recordings with John Barbirolli are absolute treasures. She also became "chancellor" of some British academic institution or other. It wasn't only her natural voice that made her great, but also her totally tasteful, musically insightful use of it. Her career preceded the era of "historically informed" vocal techniques for singing Donizetti and Handel -- among her favorites -- but her mastery of trills and embellishments was instinctively brilliant. She was more than a singer; she was a total musician.
This English-translation version of Mary Stuart allows Baker to sing a tribute to her British heritage, much like the tribute with which Shakespeare ended his cycle of history plays. I don't suppose Donizetti had such a patriotic upswelling in mind, but Baker and Company pulled it off splendidly. This is an opulent production, a costumer's paradise. It suits the opera, and it serves the public well, sending dame janet into retirement with proper pomp and circumstance. It's well filmed and well recorded also, and the acting is better than many recent blockbuster movies about the Elizabethans. Rosalind Plowright acts the role of a jealous, tyrannical Elizabeth quite convincingly. History buffs might be perturbed at such a portrayal, but it's patently what Donizetti had in mind, and it's equally consistent with Schiller's drama on which the opera libretto was based.
Some critics have complained that Plowright sounded strained in her coloratura passages. Perhaps she did, but to my ears she sang both affectively and appealingly. It's a role that calls for some strain. Tenor David Rendall sang the third major role of the opera, the Earl of Leicester, appealingly also, more for his gorgeous voice than for his vocal technique.
In opera, the whole has to be more than the sum of the parts. Music, libretto, vocal performance, orchestral performance and interpretation -- all have to amount to something grand. Some opera fans seem to forget the whole in their obsessive concern for the "photo-opportunity" moments from their favorite divas. The whole of this performance is very grand indeed."