Today was to be the final HD telecast of the Met’s 2019-20 season. But the company is as closed as an open mind. To compensate the Met broadcast, no TV, a 2013 performance of the opera that was to have been on had not the virus paralyzed the world.
Maria Stuarda was Donizetti’s 100,345th opera composed in 1834 and first performed the following year. OK, I exaggerated; it was only the 37 year old composer’s 52nd opera. I don’t understand how he had the time to contract the syphilis that drove him mad and then killed him at age 50.
The opera ran into all sorts of problems. It was censored by the royal Neapolitan guardians of morality because it depicted the decapitation of one monarch at the order of another. Not long after the opera’s premiere the singer for whom the title role was written, Maria Malibran, died. After a brief spin around the Mediterranean world it disappeared for about 130 years.
The opera resurfaced in the early 1970s as a vehicle for Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. It didn’t make it to the Met until 2012. It has thus far received 15 performances. It is part of the Donizetti Three Queens series. The other two are Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux. There is a fourth opera about Elisabetta I – Elisabetta al Castello di Kenilworth. It’s very good and deserves to be performed as often as the other three. We really should be talking and writing about Donizetti’s Four Queens.
The 2013 performance featured mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role. This season’s aborted performances assigned the title role to the high soprano Diana Damrau. Dr Fauci must not have liked German coloratura sopranos in Italian opera. So he called off the show.
This is the opera that has Mary Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda) hurl one of opera’s great arrows of vindictiveness at Queen Elizabeth during their fictional meeting at Fotheringay Castle. The scene was in Schiller’s play on which the opera is loosely based. Figlia impura di Bolena, / parli tu di disonore? / Meretrice indegna e oscena, / in te cada il mio rossore. / Profanato è il soglio inglese, / vil bastarda, dal tuo piè! (Impure daughter of Boleyn, do you speak of dishonour? Prostitute — unworthy and obscene, I blush for you. The throne of England is sullied by your feet, vile bastard!)
This tasty bit leads to a vigorous conclusion to the scene. If done with elan it can cure most viral infections. This excerpt is taken from the nearly 50 year old recording featuring Beverly Sills in the title role. Eileen Farrell is the insulted English queen who exacts her revenge in the opera’s final scene. Stuart Burrows and Louis Quilico are the tenor and baritone, respectively. Aldo Ceccato leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra.