Dates and Venue 12, 14, 18, and 20 April 2012, 8pm (matinée on 22 April at 2:30pm) | Royal Theatre, 1815 Blanshard Street, Victoria
Elisabetta Sally Dibblee Maria Stuarda Tracey Dahl Dudley, Earl of Leicester Edgar Ernesto Ramirez Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury Stephen Hegedus Cecil, Lord Chancellor Andrew Love Anna Lisa DiMaria
Conductor Timothy Vernon Director maria Lamont Chorus Master Giuseppe Pietraroia Set & Costume design Camellia Koo Lighting design Michael Watson Stage manager Sarah Robb
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
Reviewer John Jane
Gaetano Donizetti seemed to have harboured a fascination for British royalty. His two tragedia lirica, Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda, written just a few years apart, are framed within the house of Tudor. So what if Donizetti (or his librettist Giuseppe Bardari) plays fast and loose with history. It would appear, according to Bardari’s speculative account that Elizabetta (Queen Elizabeth I) had her cousin Maria (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots) executed, not out political expediency, but out of passion. Donizetti’s glorious opera has at its core a love triangle that presumes that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was deeply in love with Maria while simultaneously being loved by Elizabetta.
I much prefer the Donizetti – Bardari version. It makes for fabulously dramatic opera and far more engaging than the stuffy history books I was required to study as a schoolboy.
The production begins where it might actually end; in Westminster palace with the household staff removing a portrait of Maria to replace it with one of Elizabetta. The staff (facilely represented by the POV chorus) ambiguously attired in modern garb, sing the brilliant Qui is attenda, Elle e vicina while carrying out this symbolic task.
Enter Elizabetta, vibrantly played by soprano Sally Dibblee, expressively dramatic in her opening aria Ah! Quando all’ara scorgemi as she ruefully tests the affections of the chivalrous Leicester. Ms. Dibblee absolutely owns the stage in the first act that ends with her singing a pair of duets with Mexican-American tenor, Edgar Ernesto Ramirez who gives the role of Leicester generous bravado. In the second aria, Sul crin la rivale, Leicester finally convinces Elizabetta to meet with Maria.
In the second act, we see Winnipeg soprano Tracy Dahl for the first time as the feisty Maria. The confrontation scene between Maria and Elizabetta, though having no historical credibility, presents the dramatic zenith of Donizetti’s score. Ms. Dahl delivers good coloratura in the showpiece aria Va'... lo chiedi, o sciagurata pleading that Elizabetta be merciful, but the English Queen acts nonchalant. Dahl and Dibblee pretty much knock spots off Donizetti's powerful music without attempting to upstage each other.
Giuseppe Pietraroia’s chorus comes into its own opening the third act as Maria's Faithful Servants with the magnificent Vedeste? Vedemmo … Qual truce apparato. The tenebrous third act is entirely taken up with Maria’s preparation for her execution decreed by Elizabetta. Awaiting the execution Ms Dahl sings Deh! tu di un umile preghiera with somber poignancy; accompanied by the orchestra under the guidance of Maestro Timothy Vernon who performed with sentient tempi.
Camellia Koo’s costume and set design provide an additional level of quality to the production. The fusion of neoteric, monochromatic “uniforms” worn by the servants with elegant, technicolour clothing worn by the Queen shows astute creative flair. However, the tableau of Elizabetta in white regalia in the final execution scene may be considered a little overblown.
In this production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda Pacific Opera Victoria finishes their season on a high note offering something worthwhile for both the aficionado and the neophyte.
© 2012 John Jane