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 Putnam 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.