OPERA NEWS - Maria Stuarda
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Maria Stuarda

Astoria Music Festival

In Review Astoria Stuarda hdl 915
Deshorties and Meade in the queens' confrontation scene at Astoria Music Festival
© Dwight Caswell 2015

Angela Meade sang her first Maria Stuarda in a superbly cast Astoria Music Festival concert performance of Donizetti’s opera June 28 that rocked the 667-seat Liberty Theater. Neither lean-toned Maria, like Sills or Devia, nor a mezzo, like Baker or DiDonato, Meade brought a substantial, tremolo-free soprano to the Scottish queen. Sovereign high notes capped the duet with Leicester and the confrontation stretta; smooth legato marked the duet with Talbot. The prayer’s held G, sustained for seven measures, gradually gained volume, which continued to increase through the chromatic ascent to B flat. Most happily, in the queens’ confrontation, climaxing with “vil bastarda,” Meade erupted with all the ferocity one could want.

  Everyone else in the cast also was singing her or his role for the first time. Tall, regal Alexandra Deshorties was a white-hot Elisabetta who pushed the boundaries of the concert format, consistently addressing her colleagues, not the audience, which loved her approach. She summoned chilling coloration in her low register, and her “Alma incauta!” aside in the duet with Leicester was positively Callas-like. Her intensity was nearly matched by Aaron Blake as Leicester, who poured out beautiful tenor tone that might have been tapered with more nuance and lunged at a couple of high notes. Baritone Richard Zeller, consistently excellent through many Astoria appearances, was a rock-solid, compassionate Talbot. Baritone Matthew Hayward was a satisfyingly sinister Cecil, and mezzo Angela Niederloh was a luxuriously cast, sumptuous-voiced Anna.

The chorus was made up of Astoria Music Festival Apprentice Vocal Artists who had finished their staged Zauberflöte just two nights before in this perpetually overachieving and under-rehearsed festival. As usual, the Astoria Music Festival Orchestra under artistic director Keith Clark was more vibrant than polished, yet the harp arpeggios and string chords for Maria’s aria in the park were winningly atmospheric.

For concert performances, Clark abridges operas to audience-friendly lengths. This time, his trims were unobtrusive until the great final scene. He cut its dark orchestral introduction and the first half of its Verdi-anticipating chorus, leaped directly to the prayer, cut a verse of Maria’s cabaletta and eschewed any walk-to-the-scaffold music (different versions exist). At the end, Meade, standing behind Clark, missed a cutoff cue and held a high note beyond the orchestra’s cadence — a weak finish to a strong performance.

Meanwhile, Clark and the festival’s ambitions are soaring higher than the Astoria Column: having staged the Pacific Northwest premiere of Berg’s Wozzeck in 2010, they plan that of his Lulu in 2016. — Mark Mandel 

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