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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Maria Stuarda

Sondra Radvanovsky goes back to the chopping block.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Waiting for axeman: Sondra Radvanovsky as Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuarda.
Photo by Ken Howard  © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
All New York opera lovers hail the queen as Sondra Radvanovsky sings the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuarda, the second of Donizetti's three operas depicting the stormy history of England under Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.

The bel canto operas which Gaetano Donizetti wrote based (very loosely) on the history of 16th century England have acquired a legendary status among New York opera lovers. Sure, they were presented at New York City Opera in the 1970s with Beverly Sills taking on all three roles: Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth. Those performances have passed into legend.

This season, a new legend is being written as Sondra Radvanovsky sings the roles of Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I in Donizetti's Three Queens trilogy on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. This Maria Stuarda is the first revival of this production which opened in 2012 which originally featured  Joyce DiDonato as Mary.

Based on a play by Friedrich Schiller, the opera deals with intrigue at the court of Queen Elizabeth of England, and a (fictional) clash between Queen Bess and her cousin Mary Stuart, the "Queen of Scots." (Elizabeth is also the center of the third opera in the informal trilogy, Roberto Devereux.)

This revival returns Elza van den Heever to the role of Elizabeth I. It also features Patrick Carfizzi, Celso Albelo and bass Kwangchal Youn in supporting roles. Riccardo Frizza conducts.

Maria Stuarda returns to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on Jan. 29, 2016.

Recording Recommendations:

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Aldo Ceccato (DG, 1971)
Maria Stuarda: Beverly Sills
Elizabeta: Eileen Farrell
Talbot: Stuart Burrows

Teatro Comunate de Bologna cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1974)
Maria Stuarda: Joan Sutherland
Elizabeta: Huguette Tourangeau
Talbot: Luciano Pavarotti

Just as Donizetti intended Maria Stuarda to be a showdown between divas playing the roles of English queens, my recommendations for this opera feature two of the great ladies of the stage. On one hand, you have Beverly Sills' superb performance as Mary, with an excellent British orchestra and a strong Elizabeth from the reliable Eileen Farrell. The Sutherland/Bonynge recording features La Stupenda in her comfort zone, with her husband conducting and Luciano Pavarotti as Talbot. Pick 'em.

Watch a scene from Maria Stuarda starring Joyce DiDonato here. 

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.