The Metropolitan Opera, New York
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It’s “hard to imagine” that opera lovers could get a better gift at the start of a new year than the Met’s first-ever staging of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. In a production that will be broadcast live to various HD cinemas around the world on Jan. 19, mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato delivers a performance “that will be pointed to as a model of singing in which all components of the art form—technique, sound, color, nuance, diction—come together in service to expression.” DiDonato plays an imprisoned Mary Stuart—aka Mary, Queen of Scots—as the deposed Catholic monarch confronts her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, in a doomed bid for pardon. Even though Donizetti’s once-controversial 1835 bel canto tragedy ends at the gallows, those who see this production will be moved and renewed.
But DiDonato cannot carry the production alone, said Mike Silverman in the Associated Press. Making her Met debut, the South African soprano Elza van den Heever displays a voice that’s “impressive in many respects.” Yet her portrayal of Elizabeth is undermined by director David McVicar’s decision to have the performer “lurching awkwardly about the stage” as she quarrels with Mary over faith, politics, and the affections of the Earl of Leicester. McVicar apparently wanted to create a contrast with Mary’s “immaculate poise.” But the stomping about “mainly proves distracting.”
It’s worth noting that the libretto “takes considerable liberties with history,” said Heidi Waleson in The Wall Street Journal. The two queens never even met, let alone loved the same man. Donizetti also was clearly playing to his Italian audience by making Mary a Catholic martyr. Still, his “richly imagined sequence of arias and ensembles” makes for moving drama, and DiDonato plays the heroine to the hilt. In her final aria, in which she forgives Elizabeth while heading to execution, she is serene in her righteousness.
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