Josephine Novak reviews Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at Barcelona's opera house, Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Anyone who has read the column regularly knows that I frequently gripe about the unnecessary attempts at originality that frequently damage the presentation. Once again, the mélange of period costume for the two queens, with everyone else parading around in clothing from the 20th century (not even consistent decades!) distracted from the beauty and dignity of the story itself. Basta ya!
Having made my standard gripe, I can now go forward with unconditional praise for performance of the singers, conductor and orchestra, all of which were superb and left me so hungry for more, that I am hurrying out to get an additional ticket (hopefully they are still available). Once was not enough.
Joyce Di Donato 'owns' the role of Maria Stuarda. Her performance at the Met last year and the current one here at the Liceu are among the most magnificent that I have ever heard. The role at the Met was aided, I cannot resist saying, by the classical presentation of the staging and the appropriate costumes. But even here, Ms. Di Donato managed to infuse a tremendous dignity into the role, and was vocally superb. This is an opera with more duos, trios and quartets than solo arias and the way in which she and her fellow singers wove in and out and cooperated to perfection was a joy to hear.
Ms. Di Donato was exquisitely paired with Silvia Tro Santafé as Queen Elizabeth. Hampered though she was by a costume with the girth and inconvenience but none of the magnificence of the era, she performed both as an actress and a singer at top level. I had never heard her before, and look forward to the next occasion.
Javier Camarena sang beautifully and flawlessly, although his understanding of the character of Leicester seemed less sure. He reduced this hardened courtier to a cowering weakling, which made it difficult to understand what either of these strong women could see in him.
Conductor Maurizio Benini brought out the best in the orchestra, maintaining a perfect pace.
Despite the nastiness of the modern staging, the final act was very moving: ok, I cried. A small, persuasive staging detail was the way the executioner, obviously under great stress, snuck surreptitious swigs of alcohol from a small flask.
The new production is shared by Covent Garden, the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw and the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. A pity: Donizetti and the singers deserve better.
The performances continue until January 10th, with a change of lead singers for the evenings of the 3rd and 7th. I intend to go to hear it at least once more, listening to the music, watching the actors closely and ignoring the set. The evening stands out as one of the most superb musical events in a very long time. Bravo, Liceu.