Maria Stuarda

This Donizetti opera was meant to be premiered in Naples, but it was banned by the King of this principality. It is fascinating that the execution of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, which took place a good 250 years before Donizetti composed the opera, was controversial enough to result in censorship.  Mezzo soprano, Maria Malibran, who was already a celebrity, had chutzpah to accept the role, despite controversy, and the première took place  in Teatro La Scala in Milan. Although the première in London was anticipated shortly thereafter it actually did not happen because of the premature death of Maria Malibran at the age of 28. It postponed the performance in London for more than a hundred years. It was performed for the first time in North America in San Francisco in 1970.

Ever since monarchy came into existence it became “business as usual” that the contenders to the throne would resort from time to time to physical annihilation of a rival if other options failed. Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, was decapitated at the age of 45 for treason under the reign of her elder cousin Elizabeth I, who was 54 at the time. The historical underpinnings of this rivalry are far more complex than the rivalry between the two cousins for the throne, which explains the highly charged controversy surrounding this opera.  

This opera depicts the execution of Maria Stuarda as an outcome of a love triangle between Mary Stewart, Elizabeth I and Roberto Earl of Leicester. Roberto loves Maria, but Elizabeth is the monarch in power who is contemplating marriage with the King of France, although she is in love with Roberto. The execution of Maria is a result of Elizabeth’s jealousy. After all it is  Donizetti’s opera and not a thesis in history.

This opera held its dress rehearsal in Toronto on 27 of April. It is yet another piece of evidence that Toronto opera always has good singers. Ms. Serena Farnocchia in the title role is head and shoulders above everyone else in this production. Her singing portrays a passionate, dignified woman who accepts her fate with spiritual wisdom and an ability to forgive. Ms. Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Elizabeth, although adequate in singing, was not so successful in acting. Her portrayal of  jealousy in this royal character was not studied enough and came across as ordinary and on occasions hysterical.

The weakest elements in this production are costumes and scenography. The costumes are meant to be of the period but they lack in splendour and lavishness what one would expect to see. Elizabeth’s dress is made of a simple thin fabric making the wiring underneath  painfully visible. Such portrayal of the character whose namesake on the throne is the head of our state is dangerously close to intolerable. Roberto has some sort of ridiculous bermuda shorts under his mediaeval apparel. The only relatively decent costume, though lacking in detail, is the one  for the title role.

This lyrical drama takes place in a Shakespearean theatre with the royal subjects and courtiers as spectators. A lot of wood was used for this production but without the necessary refinement. The scenes that according to the libretto take place in royal chambers are hinted at by curtains adequate only in colour but not in texture and volume.  They are hung on a wire across the middle of the scene, which give the impression of the makeshift theatre one might expect to see in a public school concert rather than in an opera house of the second largest country in the world. The overall effect is that the entire effort of the singers is undermined by the unfinished stage job. The moat bridges which go up and down far too often are on the verge of dysfunctional. The stage movement is not well-studied either and the executioners in armour appear too casual in their movements.  

There is a great potential for staging this opera but the production efforts were spread thin instead of focusing on the core actors in this drama. The attempt at Shakespearean theatre did not convey an intelligible message, if any.  The lack of coordination in volume between the stage and the pit from time to time suffocated the voices of the singers.

Nevertheless, the piece is worth listening to for the singing. I personally expereienced few genuine thrills listening to Serena Farnocchia’s rendition of Maria Stuarda.

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One Response to “Maria Stuarda”

  1. Review: Maria Stuarda at the COC « All Time Coloratura Says:

    […] Opera Toronto: “There is a great potential for staging this opera but the production efforts were spread thin instead of focusing on the core actors in this drama. The attempt at Shakespearean theatre did not convey an intelligible message, if any.  The lack of coordination in volume between the stage and the pit from time to time suffocated the voices of the singers.” […]

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