Queen Elisabeth, Leicester and Mary Stuart: history rewritten by Rossini

This opera is perhaps not one of Rossini’s most interesting works, but it is so very beautiful! The story? Leicester, Elisabetta’s lover, makes war in Scotland, secretly marries Matilde (a daughter of Mary Stuart) and takes her and her brother Enrico with him to England. He confides his secret to Norfolk, whom he considers his friend, but the latter betrays him. But it will all work out in the end, and – more importantly – it assures us of more than three hours of vocal pleasure.

It was the first of nine operas Rossini had written for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. It was also his first opera for Isabella Colbran as well as his first opera in which all recitatives were accompanied by the strings.

For the recording by Opera Rara in 2002, a special edition was made from the manuscript. This was the first time that the work was recorded completely.

The scoring is phenomenal. Jennifer Larmore (Elisabetta) and Majella Cullagh (Matilde) are both irresistible. Bruce Ford is a beautiful, lyrical Leicester and Antonino Siragusa a truly sparkling Norfolk. Giuseppe Carella conducts the whole with great inspiration and verve.

And if the overture sounds familiar to you, then you are right: Rossini reused it for Il Barbiere di Sevilla (ORC22).

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