Archive for October 10, 2013

Picture Postscript

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 10, 2013 by telescoper

I thought you might like to see the dedication written on the back of the seat in front of me at Roberto Devereux on Sunday..

Maria Stuarda & Roberto Devereux

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2013 by telescoper

I spent last weekend in Cardiff in order to catch the remaining two operas in the series of three bel canto Tudor operas by Gaetano Donizetti being staged by Welsh National Opera; my review of the first, Anna Bolena, which I saw a month ago, can be found here.

Saturday night (5th october) in Cardiff Bay saw me at the splendid Wales Millennium Centre for Maria Stuarda. Although inspired by the story of Mary Queen of Scots, the plot of this Opera is almost entirely imagined. In particular, the dramatic centrepiece of the story is a meeting between Maria Stuarda and Queen Elizabeth I an event that never actually happened. In the Opera it is this encounter – which, to put it mildly, doesn’t go very well – that leads to Elizabeth finally making the decision to have Mary Stewart executed.

The Opera begins with Elizbeth I under pressure from her Court to marry the Duke of Anjou and to show mercy towards Mary Queen of Scotland (who has ambitions for the throne of England) who has been under house arrest for the best part of twenty years. She sees the political advantage of an alliance with France through marriage, but is secretly in love with Roberto (aka Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) who is actually keen on Mary. When Elizabeth and Mary actually do meet – accidentally, when Elizabeth is out hunting – their hatred for each other is impossible to disguise. After some terse exchanges, Mary loses her temper and denounces Elizabeth. Doomed, she is taken back into captivity; Elizabeth finally signs her death warrant, and orders Roberto to witness the execution. Protesting her innocence Mary says her goodbyes and is led off to be beheaded. End of story.

The plot may not be historically accurate but it’s ideal material for an opera, with the Chorus of Welsh National Opera in good form and Donizetti’s beautiful score to counterpoint the seething emotions of love, jealousy and revenge. Lasting around 2 hours and 45 minutes (including the interval) it’s also sharper and more focussed than Anna Bolena. The highlight of the evening was Judith Howarth’s stunning performance as Maria Stuarda, whose huge voice invested her role with immense dramatic power; Alastair Miles was a sombre and sonorous Talbot and Adina Nitescu was pretty good as Elisabetta (Elizabeth). Costumes were dark, and scenery minimal, as in Anna Bolena. The one thing I didn’t like was Maria Stuarda’s tartan skirt, not exactly the most subtle way of marking out the Queen of Scotland, which stuck out like a sore thumb among the black dresses on stage.

And so to Roberto Devereux, which finds an older Queen Elizabeth trying to protect her lover Robert Devereux (Earl of Essex) against charges of treason emanating from his enemies at court until she discovers that he also loves another woman, although she doesn’t know who it is; in fact it is her friend Sarah Duchess of Nottingham. Meanwhile the Duke of Nottingham isn’t too happy about Roberto’s dalliances with his wife. Eventually the net closes on Roberto and he attempts to flee but is captured, foolishly carrying a gift given to him by Sarah. His fate is sealed and he is executed, but not before Sarah shows up and reveals herself to be Elizabeth’s rival. Elizabeth has a sudden change of mind and attempts to halt Roberto’s execution, but she’s too late. In remorse the Queen longs for her own death.

The star of this show was undoubtedly the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, who were on superb form, right from opening bars of the overture with its deliciously wry references to the National Anthem. Conductor Daniele Rustoni, who was great in Anna Bolena too, bouncing about in the pit, clearly enjoys Donizetti’s music enormously and got the very best out of the musicians.

The production was a bit strange though. Mostly sombre and minimal as the previous two Tudor operas, it nevertheless included some bizarre variations in costume and scenery. Leonardo Capalbo as Roberto Devereux was a leather-clad gigolo whose diminutive stature contrasted with the tall and elegant Alexandra Deshorties as a rather vampy Queen Elizabeth, even dressed in leather like a dominatrix for some of the time; although her attire was a bit incongruous I actually thought she was fabulous. Later on, even more strangely, a giant mechanical spider appeared on stage. I didn’t really get the point of this contratption, but thought the sudden injection of Steampunk imagery was a blast. After all, you don’t go to the opera expecting everything to make sense. The elderly blue-rinsed lady sitting next to me didn’t agree: “I don’t think so” she said in a loud voice when the aforementioned arachnid began its perambulation across the set…

Anyway, I enjoyed all three of these operas. Each has much to offer, though I think Maria Stuarda is the best overall. Some people seem to think that Bel Canto operas just consist of a series of vocal exercises with those not involved hanging around on stage clearing their throats ready for their turn. That’s entirely unfair. There’s real drama in these works and I commend Welsh National Opera for their courageous decision to stage all three of them in a single season.