Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Queen vs Queen in Donizetti's 'Maria Stuarda'

Published:Friday | January 18, 2013 | 1:00 AM
A scene from 'Maria Stuarda'. - Contributed

Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart) is a tragic opera (tragedia lirica), in two acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Bardari, based on Andrea Maffei's translation of Maria Stuart, Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play.

The opera debuted at the Met Opera House on New Year's Eve 2012 and will be transmitted live in Jamaica at Carib 5 at 12:55 p.m. tomorrow. American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato performs the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots; Elza van den Heever, South African soprano, shaved her head to play the tempestuous Elizabeth Tudor and Matthew Polenzani, American lyric tenor, sings Leicester.

David McVicar directs and Maurizio Benini conducts.

Maria Stuarda is one of a number of operas by Donizetti which deals with the Tudor period in English history, including Anna Bolena (named for Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn), Roberto Devereux (named for a putative lover of Queen Elizabeth I of England) and Il castello di Kenilworth. The lead female characters of the operas, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux, are often referred to as the 'Three Donizetti Queens'.

The story is based loosely on the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots (as Mary Stuart is known in England), and her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Schiller had invented the confrontation of the two Queens, who in fact never met.

After a series of problems surrounding its presentation in Naples after the final dress rehearsal (including having to be rewritten for a totally different location, a different time period and with Buondelmonte as its new title) - Maria Stuarda as we know it today premiered on December 30, 1835, at La Scala, the world-renowned Opera House in Milan.

Sir David McVicar, Scottish opera and theatre director, directs this production of Maria Stuarda. He said that "with Maria Stuarda you reach the midpoint of what has become known as Donizetti's Tudor trilogy, although he had no intention at the time that these three operas were going to be a group - Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Deveraux. In this midpoint opera we are really focusing on the relationship between two queens, Maria Stuarda and Elizabeth Tudor, and the political impossibility of these two women coexisting on the same small island".

He points to a myth at the heart of the tale. "It's based on the Schiller's dramatisation of Mary's story, which contains the great mythical scene, which never actually happened in history, when two queens meet and have a cataclysmic showdown. It crackles with drama, it crackles with romance. It's a very, very powerful midpoint in the trilogy of these three operas."

Therre are, however, varying approaches and McVicar said, "When I do a period piece I am very interested in trying to get either the period as exactly accurate as we can, or to find a more abstract treatment of the period that still powerfully suggests that period. When we did the production of Anna Bolena last season at the Met, we went for an nth degree of historical accuracy, particularly in the costuming. With Maria Stuarda being a different type of opera, we have gone for a visual style which is freer, which is more romantic, which somehow, rather than reflecting history, reflects the romantic nature of this retelling of this story and the sweeping romantic nature of Donizetti's music."

That music is crucial as "the tonal music quality of Maria Stuarda is very very different from Anna Bolena, and that might surprise a lot of people that think of the bel canto repertoire or Donizetti's opera as being quite generic that the music is somehow interchangeable, with different plot lines. With this story of these two queens, you have opportunities for storytelling through pure music."

In the end, McVicar said, "What I have discovered, getting to know these operas, working on them and growing to love them, is what a truly fine dramatic composer Donizetti is and how particularly and pertinent each score is to the story he is telling".