A new production of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda" is next up in the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD simulcast series at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, taking place Saturday at 10:55 a.m.
The opera is set prior to the 1587 execution of Mary Stuart, Catholic queen of Scotland, when Queen Elizabeth I of England was faced with ongoing threats to her throne. Elizabeth I was the last of the English Tudor monarchs. She placed Mary in confinement for almost 20 years in fear that the Scottish queen was part of a plot to dethrone her. Donizetti came across the story when attending a mid-19th-century Friedrich Schiller play, "Mary Stuart." After early work with librettists, Donizetti revised the libretto himself, simplifying the plot to focus on the conflict between the two rivals.
Maria, the "noble victim," will be sung and acted by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Elisabetta, the "vengeful monster," will be performed by the South African soprano, Elza van den Heever. Not only is Elisabetta concerned about protecting her throne, but also about winning from Maria the love of Roberto, Earl of Leicester, sung by tenor Matthew Polenzani. The Act I gathering of these three, along with the assembly of the English Court in London's Whitehall Palace, were actions for theatrical effect for both Schiller's play and Donizetti's opera, and never occurred in real life.
Leicester entreats Maria to humble herself before the queen. In the well-known Act I duet scene, Maria, mastering her pride, kneels before Elisabetta, asking her pardon. Elisabetta responds by accusing Maria of treason. Maria loses her temper and denounces the Queen as the "bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn" and is then dragged back to prison.
The New York Times' Vivien Schweitzer asked DiDonato why a mezzo-soprano was chosen to sing Donizetti's highly lyrical, bel canto role of Maria. DiDonato indicated that heroines of bel canto music often must express their suffering through heart-wrenchingly beautiful music, best achieved through a voice with deeper resonance. Reviews of the opening performance indicate that DiDonato accomplished this transcendence both with superior voice and convincing stage actions.
Another interesting sidelight is the decision by van den Heever to shave her head for the role. Portraits of the wig-bearing monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, show an unusually high forehead. Repeated attempts to cover den Heever's hair with a bald cap left a fine ridge visible in the close-in views of the cameras used in HD live productions, so she shaved her head to achieve the look.
The lyrical solos, duets, choral ensembles and orchestral support under the baton of Maurizio Benini, along with the costuming and staging, are excellent. Each cast member received top reviews for vocal and acting personification.
Saturday's showing has one intermission, during which snacks and beverages will be served.