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Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

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Mary Stuart
02 Mar 2008

Mary, Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda)

San Diego Opera apparently has raided the vaults of Lincoln Center opera companies, circa the 1970s.

Gaetano Donizetti: Mary, Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda)

San Diego Opera
24 February 2008


The company opened the season with a rebuilt staging of the Metropolitan Opera's Tannhauser production from that era, and for their second production, they figuratively crossed the square for Ming Cho Lee's sets for Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (which San Diego Opera insists on calling Mary, Queen of Scots). The San Diego audience audibly appreciates a decent traditional staging, and even though Ming Cho Lee basically dressed up a spare uni-set with just a shift of platform here and a moody back drop there, the curtain for act one, scene two (after the first of two intermissions) drew a round of applause from the audience. The three scenes of act two came after the second intermission, and each necessitated the dropping of the curtain for a scene change, letting at least some of the drama evaporate. Perhaps a lighting cue would get the audience to shush before the conductor (the reliable Edoardo Müller) brought down his baton to resume the music.

Quibbles aside, San Diego Opera deserves an opera lover's gratitude for putting on Donizetti's historically corrupt but very entertaining spin on the sad fate of Mary. Admittedly, the opera's structure lacks a compelling narrative drive. In the first scene, Elizabeth the queen gives into the request of the Earl of Leicester to meet the imprisoned Mary, only because the Queen is smitten with the Earl. In scene two, Mary exults at a brief taste of freedom in the assigned meeting place. However, her pride will not let her humble herself before Elizabeth, and in one of opera's surprisingly rare cat fights, curses are soon flying through the air between the two ladies. This seals Mary's fate, of course, but the long second act drags it out unmercifully, although when the final scene finally takes the audience to the execution chamber, the opera's best music follows.

Kate Aldrich as Elizabeth started the show gunning her engines, and if her character didn't disappear after the first scene of act two, might have totally eclipsed Angela Gilbert's Mary. Aldrich sang out with vehement gusto, easily encompassing the role's vocal range. She had the fire for the confrontation scene and the dejected regret when she realizes the man she loves is in love with Mary. Gilbert took a while to warm up. Her chief vocal strength is her top, which she can float quite beautifully. But it is more of a technical feat than an artistic one, and the middle of the voice too often dropped under the orchestral fabric. That being said, Gilbert hit her stride in the long final scene, finding just enough color to hold the audience though the rather anti-climatic set pieces.

Reinhard Hagen's sturdy bass worked well in making a sympathetic Talbot, who tries to support Mary in her suffering. Andrew Greenan, as the "bad guy" Lord Cecil, urged on the audience's boos at curtain, knowing well that they indicated the success of his performance. In the tenor role of the Earl of Leicester, Yegishe Manucharyan pushed his attractive lyric voice to meet the occasionally forceful demands of Donizetti's writing, with intermittent success. A vertically challenged tenor in the classic mode, Manucharyan as costumed often looked as if he were the adolescent prey of two middle-aged female predators.

Word is that at the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb has plans to revive not only this opera but the other two in Donizetti's "Three Queens" trio. After the rapturous applause that followed this San Diego performance of Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps General Manager Ian Campbell will consider beating the Met to the punch.

Chris Mullins

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