Thea Musgrave: Mary, Queen Of Scots

Lyrita are proud to present this re-issue of Mary, Queen of Scots to coincide with Thea Musgrave’s 90th Birthday celebrations.

Mary has been a fascinating subject to work with. It was interesting and challenging to find a path through all the well-known facts about her life, in order to be able to envision her with fresh eyes and gradually to shape my own portrait of her. My interest in her as a subject was first aroused by a basic idea of Amalia Elguera, (who had written the libretto for my previous opera The Voice of Ariadne) and on whose play Moray the opera is based. Here the emphasis lies, as the title implies, on Mary’s half brother James Stewart. I soon decided that in the opera, although the chief protagonist would be James, the central character must be Mary herself. [Thea Musgrave]



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This new Lyrita reissue is the third incarnation of Virginia Opera's live 1978 recording of Thea Musgrave's fast-moving, gripping three-act opera Mary, Queen of Scots. Made only seven months after its Edinburgh Festival premiere (September 1977), the recording first appeared as a Vox three-LP set and resurfaced as a two-CD set from Novello Records. Comparing the Novello and Lyrita sets, there is little to choose between them in sound quality; and what still shines through is the vibrancy of the music itself, the orchestral accompaniment (brilliantly rendered by Musgrave's husband, Peter Mark) and the principals, Ashley Putnam in particular as the Queen, Jake Gardner as her half-brother, James Stewart - in many respects the agent provocateur of the work - and Barry Busse as Bothwell. Familiarity with the synopsis or libretto allows one to follow the action, especially as Musgrave's music guides the listener through clearly enough. It has nearly everything: radiant melodies, especially the Queen's lullaby for her infant son (later James I of England), vibrant set pieces, as in the ballroom and council scenes, and a compelling plot - which concludes with Mary's imprisonment in England and separation from her son. The plot concentrates on Mary's relationships with her brother and lovers (Darnley and Bothwell), and it is this human drama that is the opera's strong suit. This production is 40 years old but it still delivers quite a powerful punch and I happily recommend it. Gramophone

Of the post-Britten generation, Thea Musgrave has one of the more impressive opera CVs with ten currently to her name. Ninety this year and still going strong, 1977’s Mary, Queen of Scots falls neatly in the middle of her output. Given that Musgrave is a) a woman and b) was born in Scotland, her take on the frequently over-romanticised monarch is notable for a (mostly) factual account of her troubled time on the throne – Musgrave herself wrote the libretto – and a tonal, if frequently spiky and harmonically pungent musical language.

Musgrave presents a self-aware pragmatist determined to secure her reign, albeit through a series of politically disastrous liaisons with a half-brother and two fatally flawed husbands. Eschewing sentimentalism, the score’s fierce energy crackles with conflict, while offering moments of musical titillation by the deployment of well-integrated Scottish consort and dance music.

Lyrita’s release restores the live American premiere to the catalogue, with Ashley Putman a thrilling and sympathetic Mary and fine performances by the men in her life: Jake Gardner as bullying brother James, Earl of Moray, John Garrison as her unstable peacock-of-a-first consort Lord Darnley and Barry Busse as the egotistical Earl of Bothwell. Peter Mark (Mr. Musgrave) drives the drama for all it’s worth while the occasionally cough-riddled sound is acceptable. An important reissue. Clive Paget, Limelight Magazine

This wonderful record was recorded live in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 2, 1978 thanks to the ingenuity and great professionalism of Martha Baird Rockefeller, Maryanne Mott and Herman Warsh. The world premiere of Mary, Queen of Scots went to the Edinburgh Festival a year before, in 1977, commissioned by the Scottish Opera.  It is one of the many jewels of the Lyrita label. 

Mary, Queen of Scots, music and libretto of the Scottish composer Thea Musgrave, is an opera where the author makes a challenging proposal, and that, in the world of opera, is always appreciated. 

Maria Stuart, the Scottish queen of the Scots and the queen's widow of France, is a tragic figure, vitally alive, with stormy relationships; the author wanted to reflect on the booklet, and also wanted to show the powerful feeling that the impulsive charm of the queen was a part of her personality, especially during her youth. Let's say it clearly: the drama is a death fight to assume the Scottish crown.

On the one hand, the American soprano Ashley Putnam plays an attractive and vital queen, who reigned very little time and had a disastrous personal life. On the other hand, the main male role in the opera is that of the brother of Queen Mary, an unpleasant character very well interpreted by Jake Gardner who will face her sister. The orchestra takes on a great sound thrust when James murders Gordon, when Queen Mary goes to England.

Thea Musgrave focuses on a complex orchestra, rich in sonic and emotional resources that reinforces the lyrical aspects of the characters. “This was one of the challenges I wanted to overcome in this opera: to give it a spectacular orchestration.” This is achieved efficiently and with good taste. Thea Musgrave, a prolific composer of an inexhaustible musical vein, knows her work, without a doubt. 

Maria, the queen, was vulnerable, impulsive, to the point that she became a victim of her own passions. In spite of the warnings of Lord Gordon, interpreted with a kindly fondness for low Francesco Sorianello, he refuses to react rationally to the dangers that surround him. 
Musgrave had a decidedly impressive vocal cast of mostly British singers: Jake Gardner, Jon Garrison, Barry Busse, Kenneth Bell, Francesco Sorianello and Carlos Serrano.

This recording is the reissue of post-US production - exactly six months later - with the direction of the husband of the composer Peter Mark, obviously very respectful of the score. Mark achieves a remarkable balance between the scene and the orchestral pit. 
Musgrave is one of those composers that are not yet sufficiently internationally recognized; His way of communicating is very expressive and usually tense narrative texts with which he works. All in all, the compositions of Musgrave cause, almost always, a great impression on the listener.  Sonograma Magazine

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