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.

  • Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects
    Phl, Japan sign P9.6-B ODA projects

    The Philippines and Japan have signed agreements for six official development assistance (ODA) projects amounting to 22.289 billion yen or around P9.6 billion. …

  • Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms
    Commission to launch glossary of Pinoy meteorological terms

    The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) will release a glossary of meteorological terms in Filipino to help the Filipino people better understand weather forecasts and instill disaster awareness among them. National Artist for Literature and KWF president Virgilio Almario said yesterday the KWF produced the glossary titled Patnubay sa Weder Forkast to simplify scientific terms used in the weather bulletins of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration …

  • Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP
    Divorce bill good scapegoat for couples – CBCP

    Contrary to what romance novel writers would want their readers to believe, there are no perfect marriages in the real world. This was according to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. In a statement titled “CBCP Position Against the Divorce Bill and Against the Decriminalization of Adultery and Concubinage,” Villegas said that while it is not easy to make relationships last, learning how to work out differences – and …

  • DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa
    DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

    The defense department is holding off repairs and other planned infrastructure projects on Pag-Asa Island, one of seven islets and two reefs occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed Spratly Islands. Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that the maintenance and repair of facilities in Pag-Asa Island are not covered by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties involved in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes. “Repair and maintenance is okay but before …

  • Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns
    Blackout to hit 5 Aurora towns

    An 11-hour power outage will hit five towns in Aurora on Tuesday, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) announced yesterday. The NGCP said Baler, Dingalan, San Luis, Ma. Aurora and Dipaculao would be affected by the blackout. The NGCP said parts of Nueva Ecija and Aurora were hit by a power interruption yesterday due to the tripping of the Cabanatuan-Baler 69kV line. …

  • Rules set for climate change programs
    Rules set for climate change programs

    The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Climate Change Commission (CCC) have released the revised guidelines to track and monitor climate change adaptation programs of the government. “The government of the Philippines has demonstrated leadership and strong commitment in implementing a comprehensive reform agenda to respond to climate change,” read the joint memorandum circular published in The STAR yesterday. “With the goal of using the budget process to plan, prioritize and …

  • It’s time to move on– Speaker
    It’s time to move on– Speaker

    The nation can now move on as President Aquino has satisfactorily explained his side on the Mamasapano incident for which he even begged for understanding, lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday. “It’s time to move on,” Belmonte said in reaction to Aquino’s pronouncements made before new police graduates at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) last Thursday. The President has spoken far too much about what he knows and about his limited involvement in the …

  • ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February
    ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February

    Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) sustains its strong sales in its February performance. Toyota’s strong performance last month was due to the  high demand of the Vios, with sales of 2,012 units and of course the rest of Toyota’s line up such as the Fortuner, Innova, Wigo, Hilux, Avanza and Corolla Altis. Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, recorded 60 units last month. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options