OPERA NEWS - Viewpoint: Rewriting History
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Viewpoint: Rewriting History


Viewpoint Mary Stuart lg 113
Mary Stuart
© Classic Image/Alamy 2013

Maria Stuarda, which will be featured on January 19 as part of The Met: Live in HD, is one of the three Donizetti operas referred to as the "Tudor trilogy," a label that gained a fair amount of traction in the early 1970s, when Beverly Sills sang the title roles in Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda and Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux at New York City Opera. The Met's Maria Stuarda cast is well represented in our pages this month. Tenor Matthew Polenzani, who takes on the role of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is on our cover; South African-born soprano Elza van den Heever, who sings Elisabetta, is interviewed by Mark Thomas Ketterson beginning on page 14. And Joyce DiDonato, who is the Met's first Mary Stuart, talks to Janet McTeer — the wonderful English actress who played Schiller's Mary Stuart in London and on Broadway — about the various challenges of playing the Scots queen, beginning on page 28. 

Maria Stuarda presents Elizabeth (1533–1603), her courtier Robert Dudley (1532–88) and her cousin Mary Stuart (1542–87) as members of a love triangle that is one-third fiction. Although Elizabeth adored Leicester, and he was long eager for marriage with the English queen, the Protestant earl had no such designs on the Catholic Queen of Scots. From the time of Elizabeth's accession, in 1558, Leicester was a figure of enormous importance to her; their relationship is the subject of another Donizetti opera, Elisabetta al Castello di Kenilworth (1829), which treats history as loosely as the composer's other "Tudor" works. Kenilworth presents Leicester and his first wife, Amy Robsart, as newlyweds and Elizabeth as queen, even though Leicester and Amy's wedding took place in 1550, when Elizabeth's brother, Edward, was king. Rumors persisted throughout his lifetime that Leicester ordered the murder of his first wife in order to clear the way for his marriage to Elizabeth, but it is now thought more likely that the beautiful Amy's sudden (and unattended) death in 1560 was the result of an accidental fall. 

Elizabeth's love for Leicester, now a widower, remained profound, although she was not above offering his services as a possible bridegroom to her widowed cousin, Mary Stuart, along with the suggestion that all three of them live at the English court. Mary was briefly intrigued by the possibility of such an alliance for political reasons, but Leicester was markedly unenthusiastic and worked instead to direct Mary's eye toward her cousin, Lord Darnley, the handsome but treacherous weakling who became the second of her three husbands. Mary's unhappy union with Darnley lasted less than two years, ending with his murder in 1567. Her third, appallingly ill-considered marriage, to James Hepburn — the scoundrel suspected of organizing Darnley's death — ended in widowhood as well, when Mary was a decade into her more than eighteen years of imprisonment in England.

When Leicester finally remarried, in 1578, his bride — the ravishing Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth's friend and cousin — was immediately and permanently banished from court by Elizabeth. The queen died in 1603, having outlived her beloved Leicester by fifteen years. Among her possessions was the last letter he sent her. spacer 


CORRECTION:  The Opera Colorado staging of Gloriana was not the North American stage premiere, as stated in "In Review" (Nov.): the first production of Britten's opera by a North American company took place at Central City Opera in 2001.

The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.

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