Joyce DiDonato takes on opera's Scottish queen

HOUSTON (AP) — In real life, England's Queen Elizabeth I won her battle with Mary Queen of Scots by sending her rival to the scaffold. But in "Maria Stuarda," it's the victim who gets the last word — and the final curtain call.

So it's no wonder that ever since Donizetti's 1835 opera was reclaimed from obscurity a half-century ago, the title role has been a favorite of reigning prima donnas like Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballe.

On Saturday night, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato joined this distinguished company, scoring a huge success as she performed the role for the first time in a production new to the Houston Grand Opera.

From her first entrance, wistfully recalling her happy childhood days in France, DiDonato sang with commanding power, silken elegance of line and deep expressiveness. She captured Mary's fierce pride and desperation as well as her religious piety and courage in the face of death.

Though the role has often been taken by sopranos who dazzle the audience with their high notes, DiDonato showed that, with the right singer, the lower-voiced alternate version can be just as satisfying. In the florid passages, her embellishments were exquisite — and all the more effective for seeming to flow spontaneously from her character's state of mind.

The centerpiece of the opera is a scene that never took place: a confrontation between the two queens, invented by the German playwright Friedrich Schiller and borrowed by Donizetti's librettist.

Houston provided DiDonato with a worthy foil for this riveting 15 minutes of theater — Katie Van Kooten, an imposing soprano who sang up a storm as Elizabeth and conveyed both her toughness and her torment.

When Mary kneels to plead for her life, Elizabeth responds by berating her for her treacherous conduct. Finally, Mary can stand no more and, in this production, she rises to her feet and circles Elizabeth imperiously. Then, accusing her of dishonoring the throne as the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, Mary spits out the words that seal her fate: "Vil bastarda!"

This being opera, the plot is further complicated by the fact that both women are in love with the Earl of Leicester, sung here by tenor Eric Cutler with bright, ardent tone. The smaller roles were handled impressively, too: bass-baritone Robert Gleadow as Mary's trusted friend, Talbot; mezzo Catherine Martin as her attendant, Anne; and bass Oren Gradus as the implacable Cecil, who prods Elizabeth to sign the death warrant.

Patrick Summers, the company's artistic and music director, conducted the orchestra with muscular energy, though a lighter touch would have been welcome in some of the lyrical passages.

The production, borrowed from the Minnesota Opera, uses period costumes and a minimum of scenery, mostly pillars and columns that descend from an ornate gilt ceiling. Director Kevin Newbury does a good job of keeping attention focused where it should be — on the two queens. Both make their initial appearances on raised platforms, and in the confrontation scene a clever lighting projection causes their shadows to tower over those of the other principals.

There are just four more performances to the Houston run. But DiDonato's Mary will reach a wider audience next season when she repeats the role at the Metropolitan Opera in a new production that will be broadcast in HD to movie theaters worldwide.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel
    Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel

    The $150,000 pearl-studded, custom-made Calvin Klein dress worn by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o at this year's Academy Awards has been stolen, police said on Thursday. The gown, embellished with 6,000 natural white pearls, was stolen from Nyong'o's room at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, during the day on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood said. "Ms Nyong'o was not in the room at the time of the theft," Deputy John Mitchell …

  • National Geographic 'Afghan girl' in Pakistan papers probe
    National Geographic 'Afghan girl' in Pakistan papers probe

    Pakistani officials are investigating after the famous green-eyed "Afghan girl" immortalised in a 1985 National Geographic magazine cover was found living in the country on fraudulent identity papers. The haunting image of the then 12-year-old Sharbat Gula, taken in a refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry, became the most famous cover image in the magazine's history. Now Pakistani officials say that Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in the northwestern city of Peshawar in April …

  • South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar
    South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar

    South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a controversial adultery law which for more than 60 years had criminalised extra-marital sex and jailed violators for up to two years. The decision saw shares in the South Korean firm Unidus Corp., one of the world's largest condom manufacturers, soar by the daily limit of 15 percent on the local stock exchange. "Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," said …

  • ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’
    ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’

    Supt. Raymund Train, who led the SAF team that killed Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, recounted in a sworn statement the meeting he and senior SAF officers had with Aquino in Malacañang on Nov. 30. Train said among the senior officers who attended the meeting were then PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas, SAF deputy commander Chief Supt. Noli Taliño and intelligence group chief Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez. …

  • U.S. flies most advanced surveillance plane from Philippines

    By Manuel Mogato MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has begun flying its most advanced surveillance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, out of the Philippines for patrols over the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday, acknowledging the flights for the first time. The United States, the Philippines' oldest and closest ally, has promised to share "real time" information on what is happening in Philippine waters as China steps up its activities in the South China Sea. China claims most of …

  • NYC, Orthodox Jews reach deal on circumcision suction ritual
    NYC, Orthodox Jews reach deal on circumcision suction ritual

    NEW YORK (AP) — The city said Tuesday it has reached a tentative agreement with members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community over a tradition known as oral suction circumcision. …

  • US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians
    US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians

    The US-led coalition has carried out air strikes against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, where the jihadists have launched a new offensive and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians. The raids on Thursday struck areas around the town of Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving information on possible casualties. The town remains under the control of Kurdish forces, but at least 10 surrounding villages have been seized by IS, along …

  • Vatican seeks to quell Mexican anger over pope's drug remark
    Vatican seeks to quell Mexican anger over pope's drug remark

    VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican sought Wednesday to defuse a diplomatic tiff with Mexico after Pope Francis referred to the possible "Mexicanization" of his native Argentina from drug trafficking, the latest instance of Francis' casual speaking style getting him into trouble. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options