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Metropolitan Opera 2015-16 Preview: Sondra Radvanovsky Portrays Maria Stuarda in Donizetti's Masterpiece

First Posted: Sep 19, 2015 09:47 AM EDT
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On Jan. 29 the Metropolitan Opera will revive David McVicar's production of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda."

The Music

The opera is considered the second in the Tudor trilogy that Donizetti wrote over the years. Unlike "Anna Bolena," which was Donizetti's breakout opera, this opera is divided into three acts but is very much attuned to the bel canto style. The drama is firmly embedded in the vocal parts and Maria's music very much lyrical while Elisabetta's is rhythmic.

One of the most curious things about the score is that both leading ladies could be sung by a soprano or a mezzo-soprano and it really depends on the contrast of the voices. The big highlight of the opera is the confrontation scene which happens at the end of the act two. The scene showcases vocal fire works for both sopranos and it also ends an insult in which Maria calls Elisabetta "vil bastarda", a "vile bastard," ending the scene in a big concertato.

The ending of the opera is also quite an interesting change for Donizetti, who gives Maria four lyrical arias that showcase the vocal line rather than the typical roulades Bel Canto composers use to end operas.

The History

"Maria Stuarda" premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 31, 2012. The opera, which was written in 1835, was a popular work in Europe but it never managed to come to the Met. During the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s many divas performed the role to great success including Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberova, Beverly Sills and Leyla Gencer.

When Peter Gelb first decided to present the work, he offered the role to Anna Netrebko, as he wanted her to take on all three Tudor roles. Netrebko said no to the role as she believed the opera was too heavy for her voice. As a result, Joyce Didonato decided to take on the role of Maria Stuarda. Her Elisabetta was Elza van den Heever, who was making her Met debut.

The cast was rounded out by Matthew Polenzani and Patrick Carfizzi. During the run of the opera, "Maria Stuarda" was presented live in movie theaters and was also released on DVD through Erato.

The Production

For the production, David McVicar decided to go for a more romantic and freer feel that would also go with the music of Donizetti's score. For the backdrops McVicar has used blacks and reds. Elisabetta's sets are always enshrouded with reds while Maria Stuarda is always in a dark area foreshadowing her death.

The Performers

Sondra Radvanovsky will continue her foray into Donizetti's Tudor roles taking on the lead role of Maria Stuarda. The dramatic soprano will be the first singer in the history of the Met to take on Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Elisabetta in "Roberto Devreux" in one season. She follows in the footsteps of Beverly Sills, who sang all three roles at the New York City Opera in one season. Radvanovsky has long been a fixture at the Met for her Verdi and Puccini roles. However, two seasons ago she surprised audiences with her definitive rendition of Bellini's "Norma."

Van den Heever will reprise her interpretation of Elisabetta. The dramatic soprano is recognized for her dramatic skills and her acting. She has performed numerous roles around the world including "Norma," Verdi's "Otello," Britten's "Peter Grimes" and Wagner's "Lohengrin."

Spanish tenor Celso Albelo will make his Met debut in the role of Leicester, a role he has performed around the world. Meanwhile, Carfizzi and David Pershall will share the role of Cecil. Kwangchul Youn rounds out the cast as Talbot.

Riccardo Frizza leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in seven performances of the work.

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