Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Met HD Maria Stuarda

Deborah Voigt, doing the intermission interviews at the Met's HD Maria Stuarda yesterday, asked the stars if they had done any research into the history behind the great conflict between the two queens, Mary Stuart of Scotland and England's Elizabeth I.  Joyce DiDonato, who sang a glorious Mary, said someone had given her a picture book.  Joshua Hopkins, (Cecil), said he'd looked at Glenda Jackson's performance in the old PBS Series.

One could snigger at the definition of history.  But then Matthew Rose (Talbot) harrumphed that history really didn't figure: that this was a reworking of a play by Schiller and as everybody knows, the central event--the personal confrontation between Mary and Elizabeth in the forest at Fotheringay,  simply did not occur.   So, an Italian operatic rendition of a German dramatic presentation of what never happened to begin with.

All fair comment, but there's another sense in which both DiDonato and Hopkins had it right.  This is, to labor the point, a drama, and it is perfectly respectable to wonder what others had done with it.  DiDonato made essentially this point: she said she had watched others, and learned from them, and then felt the freedom to make it her own.

Peter Gelb, the Met's major domo, likes to promote the fact that  this is a first-ever Maria Stuarda for the Met--odd, which you recognize that it is a wonderful showcase for the female lead (or maybe two), and at the same time gratifyingly cheap to produce--no need for overproduced sets, or overdone crowd scenes.  And while strictly accurate, Gelb's remark may miss a larger point: the two queens have really never faded into obscurity.  Beverly Sills turned in a career-defining performance of the opera next door to the Met at the NYC Opera back in 1972.  And there have been at least two remarkable productions of the Schiller play in the last decade (more by lucky accident than plan, I got to see both, and they were wonderful). That plus any number of old TV and movie renditions should give the aspirant enough to work with.

People speak of this as a two-character opera--Elizabeth and Mary.  I'd say a bit more like one and a half.  Elizabeth galumphs (sic) on stage first at the Met and the two share the big scene in the middle, but in terms of sheer number of notes sung, Mary clearly runs the table.  DiDonato's Mary was everything you, or at least I, could want (I gather she took the register down a bit from the original but my ear isn't well enough attuned to notice). Elza van den Heever's Elizabeth was --interesting, and I don't mean that to be quite as snide as it sounds.  Hers is a crudely masculine queen who waddles in a Pythonesque sort of a costume.  Either it works or it doesn't: I thought it interesting but I can see how others might think this display of chromosomal excess comes at the expense of feminine delicacy.  Either way, she seems to have thought through every line, and to mean exactly what she says.  A larger issue is that her voice doesn't seem very big.  This wasn't really a problem in the boxy little movie theatre; I wonder how it worked in the yawning excesses of the Met.

A final point: everyone will talk about the confrontation between the two queens, but for  my money one of the most arresting scenes was the dialog between Talbot and Mary after she learns that Elizabeth has sealed her doom.    It's at once understated--so  much so that you can overlook it--and deeply engaged.    Ross is a big guy with a capacious voicebox and he is afflicted with a blessing that can be a curse to any performing artist trying to build a career: he makes it look easy.


Toni said...

I hope this shows on PBS since I can't get to the theater showings. I've only seen this on two lousy DVDs but I know Di Donato will be good because she always is. One reason I want to see it though is that i've only seen her do comedy. And, I agree, the opera is two parts Mary to one part Elizabeth.

Will be interesting to compare Di Donato to Netrebko's Anna Bolena. Well, maybe not. Two different approaches to bel canto entirely I think.

Buce said...

DK about you but I wonder if Netrebko has lost her edge. Not the baby, not the girth--lots of people survive both. More like she's begun to believe her own press releases and has begun faxing it in. Renee Flrming--say-- who to mind may not have as much raw talent, may have more discipline and so more staying power.