MARIA STUARDA : OPERA REVIEW

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MARIA STUARDA : OPERA REVIEW

The Metropoliten Opera HD presented “Maria Stuarda” by Geatano Donizetti on selected movie theaters around the world on January 19, 2013. I was there at Flint, Michigan Rave theater to enjoy the show.

There were about fifty aficionados in the 500 seat theater. As usual, almost all men were gray haired or depilated  and the women were elegant.

This is my first time viewing or listening to this masterpiece.

The sound system and camera were impeccable. Most of the scenes on the other hand, were too dark for my taste and this was shared by a few friends I chatted after the performance. This trend seems to occur in many performances lately; one thinks if this is a new way of saving energy for Met Opera :)  

This is a well known story in English history. Although it is a tragic story, compared to some of the Ottoman-Turkish palace tragedies of  the same period, it would rank like a high school play. As the tradition goes, in the name of preserving the unity and preventing civil war, Ottoman sultans killed all of their male siblings and their offspring for hundreds of years.

Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda,” the challenging bel canto tragedy that recounts the clash between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) and ends with the anguished Mary heading to the executioner’s block.

The great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (CLICK ON NAME) is in the title role. Ms. DIDonato’s 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 and eloquence. Her high mezzo voice is crisp  and velvety. Her acting is sincere, comfortable but not exaggerated.

In the second scene, in a park outside the prison at Fotheringhay Castle, where Elizabeth has had Mary confined, the trees are like telephone poles, without branches and leaves against poorly painted , unnatural gray skies.  As we learned during the intermission interview, Elizabeth & Maria Stuarda’s meeting was not a historical fact and never took place.

Mr. McVicar’s production and staging is more visually striking and imaginative than what he came up with for Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” (CLICK ON BLUE) which opened the 2011-12 season, the first installment of the Met’s planned presentation of Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy, of which “Maria Stuarda” is the second. (“Roberto Devereux” will be next.)

Maurizio Benini  http://www.stagedoor.it/en/artist/Maurizio%20Benini , with the best opera orchestra and chorus in the world, no question is the right conductor in the pit: He brings a sure hand and insight to this masterpece. With his supporting style, he draws a  glowing performance from the orchestra and the chorus.

The cast is excellent. In a notable Met debut, Elza van den Heever, (CLICK ON NAME) a 33-year-old South African soprano whose career is rising internationally, is a vocally bright and successful Elizabeth (Elisabetta). Although, her volume was somewhat suppressed in the first 30 minutes or so, her voice warmed up to an excellent quality later in the first act and raised to a penetrating depth and character. She turns flights of coloratura passagework into bursts of jealousy and defiance as Elizabeth contends with the threat that Mary, a blood relative, poses to her reign in England. During the intermission interview, she explained how she was changed to this character with the help of the director. She initially was preparing to play an eloquent royal lady, but the director suggested her character  to be an almost a quarrelsome  almost that rhymes with “witch” or “rich” :) quality. I also think, this is what Donizetti would have wanted.

These intermission interviews have  been very educational and entertaining for the Met HD audience in movie theaters, and has been an advantage for the Med HD viewers over the real on site viewers. Also the back stage action is interesting to watch; opera goers normally do not have access to this aspect of the art.

Another advantage of movie theater audience is close up camera action to singers , orchestra players and the conductor. It is amazing how camera moves between the instruments in orchestra  as the relevant passages are played. Wiewing the maestro face on is a great treat. After viewing these performances dozens of times, I am still impressed and excited when I hear the call “Maestro to the pit please, maestro to the pit”. As if I am the one who is being called to the pit :); truely.

In her final scene, in which Elizabeth orders Mary’s death, Ms. van den Heever, in cumbersome queenly regalia, almost waddled around her palace room, looking physically shaken by the course she could see no way around. This may have been a bit of overacting. But I admired the rawness and vulnerability of Ms. van den Heever’s performance. She was so committed to this role that she shaved her head,(CLICK ON BLUE) the better to accommodate the queen’s elaborate wigs. And her bright, intense voice sliced through the orchestra whenever the queen’s ire was provoked.

Matthew Polenzani, (CLICK ON NAME) who is becoming the Met’s go-to tenor in bel canto repertory brings melting sound and appealing vulnerability to the role of the hapless Robert Dudley (Roberto), the Earl of Leicester.

He is caught between love for the doomed Mary and entangled feelings for the imperious Elizabeth, and early scenes in “Maria Stuarda” suggest a typical bel canto romantic triangle. But his character fades into the background as the story increasingly focuses on Mary’s plight. Still, in early scenes, he must do a lot of fancy, ardent singing, and Mr. Polenzani embraced the challenge, singing with vigor  crispness.

Matthew Rose brings a robust bass voice and dignified presence to the role of George Talbot (Giorgio), the Earl of Shrewsbury, who is loyal to Mary. The baritone Joshua Hopkins captures the mix of genuine concern and political calculation that drives William Cecil (Guglielmo), Elizabeth’s secretary of state. And the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak is touching as Jane Kennedy (Anna), Mary’s devoted lady-in-waiting.

In the last extended scene, Donizetti excelled himself. Facing her execution, Mary confesses her sins to Talbot, then, surrounded by faithful servants, leads a noble, prayerful chorus. As Mary has a last moment with the guilt-ridden Leicester and bids Jane farewell, the music goes on and on, with what seems like aria after aria. But Donizetti knew what he was doing, and his inspired score carries every shift of emotion and drama.

Ms. DiDonato is simply magnificent, singing with plush richness and aching beauty. At a few moments, from the collective sounds of the subdued chorus and orchestra, a pianissimo high note, almost inaudible, emerged from Ms. DiDonato’s voice, slowly blooming in sound and throbbing richness. At that point, I thought she turned from mezzosoprano to high soprano.

I left the house mesmerized , moved and excited.

Many thanks to Metropolitan Opera HD for bringing these masterpieces to those of us who are so far away from New York.

Dr. Timur Sumer

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