Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Mary Queen of Scots
29 Apr 2009

Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” at La Fenice — Two Women in a Labyrinth

From the word “go”, the audience feels that this “Maria Stuarda” is quite different from the standard fare offered by Italian theatres.

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda

Elisabetta: Sonia Ganassi; Maria Stuarda: Fiorenza Cedolins; Roberto, Earl of Leicester: José Bros; Giorgio Talbot: Mirco Palazzi, Federico Sacchi (26, 29/4, 2/5); Lord Guglielmo: Cecil Marco Caria; Anna Kennedy: Pervin Chakar. Fabrizio Maria Carminati, conductor. Denis Krief, stage direction, sets and costumes. Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro La Fenice. Chorus Master Claudio Marino Moretti.

Above: Mary Queen of Scots


There are no cardboard Elizabethan “magnificent” halls and throne rooms; neither Piranesi’s grand jails in a bleak London Tower in the “finale”; neither a thick forest for the Royal hunt in the last scene of the first part. On the stage there is only a maze — indeed a labyrinth in granite where a fight is being fought by two tormented women in love for the same man — and also starving for the crown of Britain. The costumes have nothing to do with the XVI century; they are quite elegant but in a style closer to the high fashion of the 1950s (or slightly earlier) than to those of the historical period when the contest of the two Queens for the British crown actually took place. The plot develops today — somewhere in some country — but could have taken place even a few years ago or tomorrow. It is a perennial struggle in a-temporal setting and costumes.

A few conservative critics raised their eyebrows, but on April 24th — the opening night of this new production- La Fenice audience, not necessarily the cream of most advanced experimentalism in stage direction, loved it: the performance received a standing ovation. The just unveiled new production by Denis Krief , an Italian-based French-Tunisian director, is especially important because it is a joint effort with other major Opera Houses — Teatro Verdi in Trieste, San Carlo in Naples, Massimo in Palermo — where it will be shown starting next Fall. Krief is French-Tunisian but raised , as a stage Director, in Italy. However, the set, costumes and direction reflect the best experience of modern German opera production: Krief himself is a frequent guest director in the Federal Republic where he recently produced a successful “Ring”.

“Maria Stuarda” is the most frequently performed opera of the Donizetti’s trilogy about the Tudor Queens. The other two are “Anna Bolena” and “Roberto Devereux”. To be meticulous, the reviewer should include also “Elisabetta al Castello di Keniworth”, seldom seen on a stage and a “semi-seria opera” with a happy ending, quite distant from the tragedy atmosphere of the other three. In Anders Wiklund’s critical edition of the score, “Maria Stuarda” is compact (about two hours of music as compared to nearly three of “Anna Bolena” and “Roberto Devereux) and emphasizes the confrontation between the two Queens over the man each of them is longing for rather than the historical power struggle. As a matter of fact, Schiller’s play (the basis for the libretto) takes little notice of historical facts: Mary was 45 when she died (after 8 years in prison) and Elisabeth 53 (and had never been a beauty). Neither the Earl of Leicester appears to have been such a good looking fellow to cause such a bloody fight by two Queens. Wiklund’s edition emphasizes the sentimental and erotic tension rather than the politics surrounding it — key ingredient of the manipulated versions seen both until the mid-XIX century (when “Maria Stuarda” disappeared from the stages of the world) and from 1958 (revival in Bergamo) to the 1990s (a period when it was a war horse of Beverly Sills, Leyla Gencer, Edita Gruberova, Monsterrat Caballé and Joan Sutherland). This is, in my view, a justification for the labyrinth: it was a key element both in many a Shakespeare’s plays (as well as of gardening in that period) and quite a few Schiller’s plays.


As in many Donizetti’s opera, orchestration is rather simple; it is meant to support vocal acrobatics by the main singers. Fabrizio Maria Carminati is well aware of it and his conducting is diligent and effective. The attention is to the two protagonist. Elisabeth must be a “mezzo spinto” with an excellent flare for ascending to acute; Sonia Ganassi is veteran of the role (there are some excellent recording) and on April 24 gave an extraordinary performance — both vocally and dramatically- especially if account is taken that, at the age of 43, Ms. Ganassi is five month pregnant of her first child. Maria is a “soprano assoluto” with coloratura arias sliding into declamation and vice versa. For Fiorenza Cedolins April 24 was the night of the debut of in the role. There was some trepidation that she would not have been able to cope with the highly difficult score; as a matter of fact, in her career she had started with coloratura but had then gone to “verismo” (Tosca, Butterfly), not the most effective way to prepare oneself sing a “soprano assoluto” with coloratura , as required by “Maria Stuarda”: some imperfection in the first part but standing ovation in the jail-confession scene of the second part and in the finale. José Bros has sang Leicester may times. Normally this good tenor with a high texture is good vocally but on the stage is a sexy as an umbrella. Miraculously, Krief makes him very sensual. With both Queens.

Giuseppe Pennisi


Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):