Imaginative and magnificently performed, very difficult not to be moved by this production
Maria Stuarda is not quite one of Donizetti's best, but it is compelling with some of his most beautiful music(ie. the final scene prayer). This production is really fantastic in my opinion, my personal favourite out of the five productions of the opera seen actually and also my personal favourite production of this particular Met season. And I have to say that the standard of Season 7 of the not-always-consistent-but-always-interesting Met in HD series has been excellent so far, even the weakest Otello has some very good things.
I found the production to be very imaginative visually. And I don't mean that in a sense that it was a concept production that got it right. It is actually basically traditional as seen with the 16th century banquet hall set, yet the colours are both vivid and stark with the use of blood reds in the opening scene and grim greys in the scene following on from that and done in a way that didn't make it seem unsubtle. The costumes match this scheme while still tailored beautifully and true to period. David McVicar's stage direction shows a deep respect for Maria Stuarda and opera in general yet does much to try to make the characters distinct and interesting. The drama while never bold is often very intense that you are glued to your seat(the big confrontation between Maria and Elisabetta and the final scene were particularly well done here), no dullness or distaste in sight.
From a musical point of view, splendid doesn't quite do justice to the quality of the musical values and performances. The standard was so outstanding that I found it very difficult to think of any obvious flaws. The orchestral playing is very supple and have a gleaming beauty to their playing. The choruses in Maria Stuarda I consider some of the best of any Italian composer that isn't Verdi or Puccini(I'd even say the prayer scene is worthy of either of these two composers), and the Met opera chorus seem to think so because they sing wonderfully, resplendent as they accompany Joyce DiDonato in the final scene. All this is not possible without Maurizio Benini, who has a very elegant and characterful style, perfect for Donizetti, complete with stylistic touches that shows that he feels and understands the music.
Joyce DiDonato is magnificent in the title role. I have yet to see a bad performance from her, and she almost certainly does not disappoint here. Her tone is rich and always vibrant that beautifully blooms in the upper extension. Her phrasing show as usual a very intelligent and musical singer(her pianissimos here are just magical) and the whole performance vocally and dramatically aches with nobility and dignity- with her first scene heartbreaking in its wistfulness- with a complete command of the stage. Elza Van Den Heever's characterisation as Elisabetta perfectly shows emotion, jealousy and defiance, she even looks genuinely shaken up in her final scene and I could totally see the commitment she brought to the role. Her somewhat earthy basic sound and the quickness in the vibrato may remind one of Sondra Radvanovsky(more in characteristic than the actual sound) but I find that Van Den Heever's voice is more thrilling in how it cuts through the orchestra with more depth. Maria Zifchak, a very consistent performer deserving of more attention, is very touching.
Matthew Polenzani's(L'Elisir D'Amore that opened the season saw him give his best performance to date) Earl of Leicester I found instantly appealing. There is a great vulnerability to his acting- more so than any of his other Met performances- and he sings with his usual crispness and beautiful sound. Matthew Rose sings with a sizable and appropriately robust bass sound, and gives the role of Talbot the right amount of dignity. And Joshua Hopkins' Cecil is both concerned and calculated, which again is the right idea indeed. Overall, I found it very difficult not to be moved by this truly brilliant production, the final scene and DiDonato in particular will stick in the mind a long while after and for all the right reasons.
10/10 Bethany Cox
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