Maria Stuarda
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In Review > North America

Maria Stuarda

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Maria Stuarda hdl 416
Van den Heever and Radvanovsky in Maria Stuarda at the Met
© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

WITH HER ASSUMPTION on January 29 of the title role in Maria Stuarda at the Met, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky reached the second peak in her intended single-season ascent of the three mountains comprising Donizetti’s Tudor Queens. Although announced as singing through a head cold, Radvanovsky needed no indulgence as her voice filled the Metropolitan Opera House with dark-hued power, while her commanding characterization of the imprisoned queen mined the score’s musical effects for their dramatic intensity. Radvanovsky’s determination to corral her voluptuous but often opaque sound into melodic filigree while investing high notes with shimmer and touching vulnerability enriched her performance, and the soprano’s artistry elevated David McVicar’s lackluster production, first seen at the Met in 2012. 

The plot, based on a play by Friedrich Schiller, proposes a fictitious meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and her political prisoner Mary, Queen of Scots, even throwing in a love triangle for added fireworks. John Macfarlane’s Tudor costumes looked sumptuous, but his barren set evoked neither Elizabeth’s palace at Whitehall nor Mary’s prison at Fotheringhay Castle. Steps to the steeply raked set made entrances and exits awkwardly distracting. Worse, McVicar filled this emptiness with annoying details, making the imposingly tall soprano Elza van den Heever careen about like a giant statue on the verge of falling over, while leaving others to wander aimlessly around what appeared to be a giant ping-pong table.

The Met chorus contributed strongly throughout, but conductor Riccardo Frizza paid little attention to orchestral texture and detail, leaving accompaniment figures shapeless, and neither he nor van den Heever was able to elevate Elizabeth’s workaday opening scene. But van den Heever’s brightly focused sound grew in color and allure, culminating in a commanding and haughty confrontation scene between the rival queens. 

In his house debut, tenor Celso Albelo brought flexibility and warmth to the role of Dudley, Earl of Leicester, caught between love for Mary and loyalty to Elizabeth, and Patrick Carfizzi sounded particularly fine as Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Cecil, Lord Burghley. Kwangchul Youn’s beautiful, ample bass voice and sensitive use of text brought fine detail to Mary’s confessional scene and prepared the audience for Radvanovsky’s riveting performance in the final scene of martyrdom.  —Judith Malafronte 

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