Maria Stuarda (Metropolitan Opera)

02MARIA-articleLarge-v2The second in Donizetti’s great ‘Tudor Queen’s Trilogy, this tragic, two-act opera, written in 1835, featuring a libretto by the Italian writer and lawyer, Giuseppe Bardari, based on Andrea Maffei’s translation of Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play Maria Stuart, finally receives its long overdue and highly deserved Metropolitan Opera Premiere, courtesy of director David McVicar and designer John MacFarlane’s traditional, sparse, yet fully rewarding and exhilarating new production.

Based on the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, and spanning a period of almost two decades, this highly fictional account details the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth I and her imprisoned and ill-fated cousin Mary (in a distinct change from history in the fact that the pair never actually met), and complicated by their mutual love for Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, who in turn spurns Elizabeth’s love to advocate the release and ultimate fate of the incarcerated Mary.

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The glorious American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is astonishing as the eponymous doomed Queen, a role now more commonly taken on by true sopranos, and once again proves herself as not only one of our most technically superb and affecting vocalists, effortlessly tackling the vocal demands of the role, but as one finest actresses and interpreters currently in the business. Her interpretation of the imprisoned Queen is truly remarkable, wonderfully drawing out intense emotion, solemn nobility and conveying every subtle nuance and subdued complexity of the character to deliver one of the finest and most complete performances it has been my privilege to witness.

Making her Metropolitan Opera debut, the 33-year old South African soprano, Elza van den Heever, delivers a striking, imposing and suitably authoritative portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I. Her fine interpretation of the jealous, emotionally perturbed and conflicted Queen, combined with a dark, powerful and richly intense soprano vocal, to effortlessly penetrate through the power of the orchestra and assert her authority whenever demanded, make this an impressive, commanding and memorable Met debut.

27ac9058e8a2c6cc351e1b668aa1e221Completing our complex romantic triangle, the great American lyric-tenor, Matthew Polenzani, a glorious Nemorino in the Met’s recent production of ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’ (see review), and swiftly becoming one of the finest and most reliable interpreters in the bel canto repertoire, yet again does not disappoint, delivering a poignant, yet passionate and highly charismatic performance as ‘Roberto’ (Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester), showcasing his superb, colourful tenor vocals and adding an effective level of vulnerability and an emotional dimension to what I can’t help but feel is a slightly underdeveloped role.

The fine English bass, Matthew Rose, delivers a beautifully accomplished, well-layered and heartfelt portrayal of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, with his exciting, strong and dignified bass vocals particularly impressive in his Act II, Scene II duet with DiDonato. Joshua Hopkins is equally as impressive in his portrayal of the scheming William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, effectively capturing the balance between the concern for his Queen and his sly, political machinations, and mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak delivers a touching and sentimental performance as Maria’s companion and lady in waiting, Anna Kennedy.

7c0eea7f4e236f1f1b39125c723a9372Conductor Maurizio Benini, a fine interpreter of the bel canto repertoire, renders a powerful, fluid and stirring performance from the Met orchestra and chorus, emphasising the incredible quality, complex melodies and emotion of Donizetti’s sublime score.

The next Live In HD broadcast will be on February 16 at 12:55 pm ET / 5:55 pm GMT with director Michael Mayer’s unique new production of Verdi’s towering tragedy ‘Rigoletto’, set in the neon-clad Las Vegas of 1960. Piotr Beczala is the womanizing Duke, Željko Lucic is his tragic sidekick, Rigoletto, and Diana Damrau is Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda.

Running time: 3 hrs. 10 minutes (approx.)

Photography: Ken Howard

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