Saturday, November 21, 2009


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 22nd of November 2009 at
3 - 6 pm



ROSSINI: Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra, in two acts
Elisabetta...................... Jennifer Larmore
Leicester....................... Bruce Ford
Matilde......................... Majella Cullagh
Norfolk......................... Antonino Siragusa
Enrico........................... Manuela Custer
Guglielmo...................... Colin Lee
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Phil
Giuliano Carella (Opera Rara ORC 22)

Elizabeth Queen of England is this opera's title, when translated into the language of Inghilterra. The first surprise is the overture: as soon as it starts you will think (all-knowingly and even smugly) that they are broadcasting the wrong Rossini opera, because this is how The Barber of Seville starts; yes, it is indeed the same prelude, and that is because Rossini recycled his material; but it is not because this opera failed; still, it is odd that he could use the same introduction to a serious drama and (later) to a comedy.

This recording is from the Opera Rara series, which is regularly aired on our local fine music station (The Gramophone Room of John Ward). I heard this one from that source recently, and afterwards I played my own recording of it right through. It has Montserrat Caballé as the Queen, and as Leicester (her favourite courtier, say no more) the young vibrant voice of that soprano's protégé José Carreras; Matilde is Valerie Masterson.

Scene 1 The court at Westminster Palace
The courtiers are awaiting the arrival of Queen Elizabeth, who is to bestow honours on the Earl of Leicester after his victory over the Scots. The Duke of Norfolk is envious of the favour Leicester enjoys, and he plots his downfall. Leicester has secretly but unwittingly married the daughter of Mary Queen of Scots; he thought this Matilde was the child of a shepherd (or a swagman camped by a billabong?). Elizabeth enters to general exaltation and is quietly exulting over Leicester's homecoming. She decorates him, and then the Scottish hostages are brought in; Leicester is dismayed to see Matilde and her brother Enrico disguised as prisoners. Later he castigates her for putting him in such danger; then she privately bemoans her fate.

Scene 2 The royal apartments
Leicester confides in Norfolk, who pretends to be sympathetic, but he goes off and tells the Queen; she is shocked, and wants revenge. Everybody is called back, and she announces that she will take Leicester as her consort; he is speechless, but manages to join in the quartet. Elizabeth sends the three traitors to the dungeons.

Scene 1 A room in the palace
The Queen comands Matilde to renounce her marriage in a document, or all three shall die; she eventually gives in; but Leicester appears and declares that they prefer death. Norfolk has the audacity to request an audience with the Queen, but he is banished.

Scene 2 A hall adjacent to the prison
The people are expressing their sorrow over the events, at the Tower of London; Norfolk attempts to stir them up against the Queen, and have Leicester freed.

Scene 3 The dungeon
Norfolk comes to Leicester, who is not pleased with the rebellious plan. Elizabeth arrives, wanting to help him escape, but Leicester refuses, though he begs for mercy for Matilde and Enrico (who have somehow sneaked onto the stage); not possible, because Norfolk has accused them publicly. At this the Duke attempts to stab the Queen, but the brother and sister intervene, and he is dragged away. Elizabeth pardons all three of them, and gives her blessing to the marriage. The crowd comes in demanding release for Leicester, but he berates them for their disloyalty. However, the Queen pacifies them and appoints the Earl as protector of the throne and the nation. Celebration all round; but the Queen tells herself she will now have to occupy herself with affairs of state rather than love affairs.

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