Donizetti’s opera composed in 1834 was initially the victim of censorship, bowdlerization, and finally neglect. It was revived in a 1958 production in Bergamo, the composer’s hometown. The opera’s autograph was discovered in Sweden in 1987. Based on this score a critical edition was prepared and premiered in Bergamo in 1989. This run at the Met is the first time the company has performed the work.

Any opera by the mature Donizetti is worth a listen. This one works best when it’s a vehicle for a star prima donna – in this case Joyce DiDonato. The work has a number of fine parts which total to less than their sum. The tenor role is underdeveloped and the end of the opera though full of emotionally charged music is too long. Maria Stuarda isn’t over even after the fat lady sings and sings and then sings some more. I’m exaggerating – Ms DiDonato is slim and graceful.

The libretto by a 17 year old law student, Giuseppe Bardari, was based on Andrea Maffei’s translation of Schiller’s play Maria Stuart. Though written for a soprano, the first Maria Stuarda was the great mezzo Maria Malibran. Since the opera’s re-entry to the current operatic repertoire it has been sung by both sopranos and mezzos.

Joyce DiDonatoThe work’s most interesting music, not surprisingly, is given to the title character. Worthy of special mention are the aria “Oh nube! che lieve per l’aria ti aggiri” in the second scene of the first act, the duet between Mary and Elizabeth in the same scene in which Mary insults her captor with “Profonato è il soglio inglese, vil bastarda, dal tuo piè!” (“The English throne is sullied, vile bastard, by your foot”)  [what was her foot doing on the throne?], and the entire final scene of the opera. Dramatically, this scene is too long. Every time you think Mary is about to lose her head she starts another digression. But the music is lovely and the choral parts equally fine. Dramatically, the most effective scene is the fictional confrontation between the two queens – the bastard bit above.

Thus a performance of Maria Stuarda succeeds or not depending on the singer portraying the Scottish queen. Joyce DiDonato has almost everything needed for the role. Her voice has range, agility, power, shading, and the ability to create great emotional impact. The only criticism that can be made is that there is a hint of stridency at the core of her instrument. This is just the way her voice is. Accordingly, if lushness is what you’re after you’ll have to look elsewhere. She is a fine actress and provided all the justification need to mount this opera which is not quite up to Donizetti’s best. I question her need to affect a Parkinsonian tremor into her portrayal of Mary in the second act. She was only 44 at the time and it’s highly unlikely that had Parkinson’s Disease just prior to her execution. Besides, this is bel canto not Puccini.

Elza van den HeeverThe role of Queen Elizabeth is a sizable one. South African soprano Elza van den Heever made her Met debut made her Met debut in this role. Steely and large best describe her voice. She is a tall and large woman. Scottish costume designer John Macfarlane chose to clad her in two outrageous costumes. In the first act she was in a pants suit that made her look like a red Godzilla  In the second act she resembled a silver mushroom cloud. It appears that the Scots still resent the Tudors. Ms Van den Heever also shaved her head in another grab for gratuitous verisimilitude.  For some unfathomable reason director David McVicar (perhaps more anti-English animus) had her stride across the stage in a gait more like that of Frankenstein’s monster than that of a British monarch. Nevertheless, her’s was a very successful impersonation.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani continues to impress in an unobtrusive fashion. His lyric tenor produced the most mellifluous sound  of the afternoon. The Met keeps casting him in roles that are not the center of attention. I was surprised to discover that he has sung 287 performances since his debut with the company in 1997.

The remaining roles were all well sung. The chorus which has a sizable part was outstanding as has been the norm in recent years. Maurizio Benini supported the singers with subdued strength. The sets and costumes were both effective and appropriate other than the outlandish garb foisted on Queen Elizabeth. This is an opera that’s worth doing once in a while as long as you have a protagonist as strong as Ms DiDonato.

Video director Gary Halvorson had his endoscope back out. Some of the extreme closeups showed more detail than was desirable. He ought to back off in the future.

 

Metropolitan Opera House

January 19, 2013 Matinee

HD Transmission/Simulcast

Scheduled

MARIA STUARDA{3}
Gaetano Donizetti/Giuseppe Bardari/Friedrich Schiller

Mary Stuart (Maria Stuarda)…..Joyce DiDonato
Queen Elizabeth I (Elisabetta)..Elza van den Heever
Robert (Roberto) Dudley………Matthew Polenzani
George (Giorgio) Talbot………Matthew Rose
William (Guglielmo) Cecil…….Joshua Hopkins
Jane (Anna) Kennedy………….Maria Zifchak

Conductor…………………..Maurizio Benini

Production…………..David McVicar
Designer…………….John Macfarlane
Lighting Designer…….Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer………..Leah Hausman
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson

 

 

Metropolitan Opera House
January 19, 2013 Matinee

HD Transmission/Simulcast

MARIA STUARDA

Gaetano Donizetti/Giuseppe Bardari/Friedrich Schiller

Mary Stuart (Maria Stuarda)…..Joyce DiDonato
Queen Elizabeth I (Elisabetta)..Elza van den Heever
Robert (Roberto) Dudley………Matthew Polenzani
George (Giorgio) Talbot………Matthew Rose
William (Guglielmo) Cecil…….Joshua Hopkins
Jane (Anna) Kennedy………….Maria Zifchak

Conductor…………………..Maurizio Benini

Production…………..David McVicar
Designer…………….John Macfarlane
Lighting Designer…….Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer………..Leah Hausman
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson