A pleasure to have this record of a superlative performance
My only experience of the great American coloratura soprano, Beverly Sills has been through records, now CDs and this filmed performance of one of her great roles. So compelling is her Elizabeth that I have ordered online her other two films (La Traviata and The Daughter of the Regiment).
I have to admit however that my response to her very unique sound has not always been positive. I remember her records so well - her brilliant Elvira (I Puritani partnered by a disappointing Nicolai Gedda), her other worldly Lucia (mad scene with glass harmonica as in the original score!), her wicked Rosina (Barbiere), her Zerbinetta (a recording of Strauss arias) and of course her signature roles, the Three Donizetti Queens. In all these roles I was stunned by her technical perfection and the amount of emotional energy and intelligence she brought to them. The one thing that I found difficult was the shrillness of her voice and occasional uncontrolled, quick vibrato.
I stopped listening to her recordings in my collection for twenty or more years. Then they were re-issued on CD and somehow the shrillness stopped bothering me, and curiosity led me to the purchase of this film. I am so glad I did as the production, though not particularly innovative, is of a high traditional standard, and its centrepiece - Ms. Sills is flawless - ultra high voice and all. Costumed fabulously, she sails through rough emotional waters, as though born to play this troubled but great Queen.
In a word, her assumption of one of the most charismatic women in history is totally convincing. This is a woman who has everything and yet has nothing if she does not have the undivided affection of her court favourite, Robert Devereux. She is a woman of extreme passions - Donizetti was good at creating such portraits (both Elizabeth and Mary, the rival queens in Maria Stuarda are such women). Elizabeth's clearly aging face (marvellous make up) is set in contrast against the younger woman (Sara, sung competently by Susanne Marsee) who has stolen Robert's affections.
Unfortunately, so outstanding is Ms Sills that John Alexander (in the title role) seems unable to compete on an even playing field in either the acting or vocal departments. In fact nobody else quite measures up to her. A more balanced cast is to be found in a later film of a Munich Opera production, with Edita Gruberova (still wonderful in 2005) as the tragic queen.
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