Viewpoint: Opera Queen
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Viewpoint: Opera Queen

by F. Paul Driscoll.

Viewpoint Bette Davis hdl 316
Bette Davis, an iconic Elizabeth I
© Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.

THE PRIVATE ANGUISH OF KINGS AND QUEENS has provided us with drama for centuries; the notion that the most privileged members of society suffer when out of public view has proved endlessly interesting in the theater, the opera and the movies. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” moans Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Henry’s collateral descendant, Elizabeth I (1533–1603), the ruler of England and Ireland for most of Shakespeare’s lifetime, had her own opinion on the wearing of crowns, offered in her “Golden Speech” of 1601: “To be a king, and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasing to them that bear it.”

Elizabeth was an anomaly in her lifetime, a woman who wielded absolute power in a male-centric world. Shrewd, witty and magnetic, Elizabeth was also secretive, uncontrollably jealous and profoundly lonely. Her life—especially its last sad years—has been dramatized literally hundreds of times. From Sarah Bernhardt and Adelaide Ristori in the nineteenth century to Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett in our own era, great actresses have reveled in playing the Virgin Queen. Bette Davis’s iconic Elizabeth, in the 1939 film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, was an inspiration to Beverly Sills when the soprano began to work on Donizetti’s Elisabetta, a character Sills famously termed “a Bette Davis role with high notes.”

Sills’s conquest of Donizetti’s queens on recording and at New York City Opera in the 1970s was the stuff of legend. This season at the Met, Sondra Radvanovsky has already touched greatness with her Anna Bolena—one of the most exciting opera performances I have ever experienced. As we go to press, Radvanovsky is rehearsing for her first Met Maria Stuarda, and on March 24, this brilliant American soprano will complete her Tudor triple crown with Elisabetta in the Met premiere  of Roberto Devereux.

Long live the Queen. spacer 

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Editor in Chief 

Bar Line 
Renata Scotto’s
manager in 2000 was Robert
Lombardo, not Tony Russo,
as stated in “Elektra Energy”
Bar Line 

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